By AARON BRACY
After three successful seasons overseas, Kyle Hines still was holding out hope that the call to the NBA would come.
A productive, but undersized center at 6-foot-6, the Sicklerville, New Jersey native and Timber Creek High School graduate then made a decision that probably has resulted in him being among the best EuroLeague players in the last 10 years.
Hines relinquished the grip the NBA held on him and decided to be the best player in the EuroLeague he could be. That meant worrying less about offensive numbers and more about his defense and filling whatever role the team needed.
That was back in 2011-12 when Hines played the first of his two seasons for Athens’ Olympiacos. Success happened immediately for Hines, as he helped Olympiacos to two consecutive EuroLeague titles. Then, Hines left Athens in 2013 for the famed CSKA Moscow, where he has won two EuroLeague titles (2016 and 2019) in seven seasons and is the team’s captain. He is the first American in modern EuroLeague history to win four titles.
And Hines’ recently earned a huge individual honor when he was named to the EuroLeague’s All-Decade team, the only American on the 10-player list that includes NBA star Luka Doncic.
Not bad for someone who calls himself, “Just a kid from Sicklerville.”
A big key to his success in Europe was letting go of the NBA.
“If I’m going to be successful in basketball and in my career, I have to focus on the things I can control,” Hines told Bracy Sports Media (full interview below). “Playing over in Europe is not that bad, it’s really fun. To have an opportunity to live in Athens, Greece and play high-competitive basketball, I was like, ‘This is wonderful. You know what, I’m going to put my full focus into doing this.’ And the dividends paid off.
“I was able to find a role and find a niche for myself. I’m going to focus on being a great defender and doing the role the team needed me to fill. That’s where I was able to find success in my career.”
After those two championship seasons in Greece, Hines left for Moscow. CSKA (pronounced CHESS-ka) was a proud club that was looking to get back to the top rung of European basketball, and Hines was excited to help – until he got to Moscow.
“I wouldn’t say depressed but I was definitely questioning my decision going there because of the weather,” he said. “I didn’t see the sun for four or five months. Totally opposite of Athens. (In Athens) I could throw a rock into the Mediterranean Sea from my bedroom. It was amazing, and the weather was amazing. Then I go to Moscow and it’s gray and gloomy and I was in an apartment all day and I was like, ‘Man, why did I make this decision.’ Yet again, it ended up being the best decision of my life.”
Unfortunately for Hines, and the rest of the sports world, his 2019-20 season was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic. EuroLeague announced on Monday that the season would not resume and would re-start on Oct. 1. Assuming things return to some semblance of normalcy, Hines will be rejoining CSKA next season in search of his fifth EuroLeague title.
Europe isn’t exactly the path he envisioned after a record-setting career at UNC Greensboro, where he had 2,147 points, 1,047 rebounds and 349 blocks and is one of only six players in college basketball history to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks. (The others? Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Pervis Ellision and Derrick Coleman.)
But Hines couldn’t imagine it turning out any other way.
“I had some chances in summer league, but (the NBA) just didn’t work out,” he said. “But, honestly, I’m kind of thankful it didn’t work out because it allowed me to have such a great career and such a great experience overseas. Everybody’s path isn’t the same. I thought it was NBA or bust. But people always say God has a funny way of proving you wrong. Because I didn’t make the NBA, I was able to find my niche. I’m thankful every day it worked out that way.”