South Jersey native Kyle Hines (above) has had an incredibly successful nine year career in Europe and is ready to share his wisdom. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Graham Foley (@graham_foley3)
In his nine years playing professional basketball in Europe, South Jersey native Kyle Hines has found plenty of success no matter where he’s played.
He’s lived in small towns in Italy and Germany, winning league championships and MVP awards while there. He’s played for storied European basketball clubs such as Olympiacos in Greece and CSKA Moscow in Russia.
He won the EuroLeague Championship -- an elite 16-team tournament comprised of European countries’ league champions -- three times, and was named the 2016 EuroLeague Best Defender.
Through all of Hines’ triumphs and his moving around Europe, adjusting to new cultures and feeling comfortable away from home has gotten easier.
Learning the different languages, not so much.
“Every country I’ve gone to it has gotten harder and harder,” Hines said with a smile after playing in The Basketball Tournament’s opening round on Saturday. “In the beginning, Italian was easy because I took Spanish [in school], and Italian and Spanish are pretty similar. But German was impossible.
“Greek is okay, and Russian is a whole other thing,” he added. “Even some people who live in Russia don’t even speak Russian.”
Still, Hines is doing all he can.
“I know all the bad words and the ones you’re not supposed to know,” he laughed.
Since graduating UNC-Greensboro in 2008, Hines has made a name for himself all over the European continent.
Hines began his career with Veroli Basket, a club based in Veroli, Lazio, Italy, in 2008. He helped the club (which folded in 2015) win the 2009 and 2010 Italian Second Division Cups and was named the MVP of the 2009 finals.
In 2010, Hines moved to Bamberg, Germany to play for the Brose Baskets. In his only season with the team, the Brose Baskets won both the German Cup and German Supercup as well as the German League championship. Hines was named the MVP of the 2011 German League Finals and the All-Star Game.
He then spent two seasons with Olympiacos of the Greek Basket League where where the team won both the 2012 and 2013 Euro-League Championships. The 2012 championship was Olympiacos’ first EuroLeague title since 1997.
In 2013, Hines signed with Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow and has since won the VTB League four consecutive times (2014-17) as well as another EuroLeague title in 2016. Hines was named the EuroLeague Best Defender in 2016.
The Timber Creek product said that through all of his success, the EuroLeague championships have been his proudest accomplishments; he helped Olympiacos win its first title since 1997
“It’s an honor and an award that a lot of teams try to get,” Hines said. “Also the times I did win it, they were the ending of long periods of drought. So to be a part of that team to bring back that glory is definitely something rewarding.”
With his career winding to an end -- Hines said he originally planned to play 10 years, and this season will be his tenth -- he said he wants to share what he has learned with future Americans planning to play overseas.
In a recent interview, Hines told players “immerse yourself in the culture” and “be willing to be open-minded,” and a Tweet of his quote made some waves on social media. It is guidance that was given to him in his first year in Italy by then-teammate Jerome Allen, current Boston Celtics assistant coach and a Philadelphia basketball star who both played and coached at Penn.
“He gave me some advice and the advice I gave was kind of my version of that,” Hines said. “We would talk every day and (Allen) would just give me so much advice that would teach me how to live and how to play overseas.
“So now that I’m getting older,” he continued, “I’m starting to turn into that veteran role and I just want to give my version of what he told me to other players and maybe that can help give them some wisdom.”
Hines knows firsthand how dramatic the culture shock can be when coming to live overseas.
“I came from the South Jersey, Philadelphia area to an Italian village where no one speaks English, people wash their clothes by hand, there’s goats and wild horses and stuff like that, and there’s only one stoplight,” Hines said. “So it was a difficult transition.”
But it was Allen’s advice, along with a trip to Rome, that opened Hines’ eyes to the privilege living in Europe presented.
“One time I went to the Vatican and I had this ‘ah-ha’ moment that people save up their whole entire lives to go here for a weekend and I have a great opportunity that I live in these places,” he said. “So I tried to learn Italian, I tried to go to my teammates’ cities, not necessarily the tourist cities, even in Germany, Greece and now Russia I tried to become more assimilated to the culture by not just doing tourist things but non-tourist things and I think that kind of helped me a lot socially to get more adjusted to everyday life there.”
While CSKA Moscow’s season ended on June 13, Hines has kept busy in the offseason. He participated in an outdoor 3-on-3 tournament called the LG AegeanBall Festival in Ermoupoli, Greece. The five day event on the small island concluded on July 2.
Hines also played in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s “Antetokounmbros”, a free event in Athens that saw Giannis, his brothers and friends of his (including Hines) take on the legendary 2005 Greek National Team that won the FIBA European Basketball Championship.
Hines said the event, which drew more than 15,000 fans, aimed to “promote togetherness around everyone in Greece” and included the tag on Twitter #WeAreBros. Hines said he admires the Antetokounmpos and that they are the “most humble kids” he has ever met. He also has been impressed with Giannis’ success at a young age.
“At the age of 22 I think he’s done tremendously well and I think he’s made great strides for European basketball,” Hines said. “And not just Greek basketball, he’s shown that Europeans can also play well here in the NBA.”
Hines came home the following day, July 3, to spend the summer at home in Sicklerville, New Jersey. On Saturday, the jet-lagged Hines (who said he had been awake since four in the morning) came to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to play for the Untouchables in the first round of The Basketball Tournament.
The Untouchables, comprised mostly of other former Division I players and current European pros, won both of their games handily over the weekend to advance to the Super 16 in Brooklyn on July 20. Hines, who said he was excited to play this year after a hand injury kept him sidelined from the squad during last year’s tournament, scored 14 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the team’s 92-77 victory over OPI.
“It’s good, because we all kind of play with each other,” Hines said. “I didn’t get to practice with the guys, but we were able to pick it up and play well. We are used to kind of playing similar styles from playing overseas.”
For the rest of the summer, Hines said he will be “heavily involved” in the Team Hines Basketball Academy, a program he started in 2011 that offers clinics and a chance to play on an AAU team to kids ages 8-17. He said the basketball camps and AAU teams begin Monday.
“I love giving back to my little hometown in South Jersey because growing up we didn’t have anything like that,” Hines said. “We don’t want kids to have to travel to Philadelphia or New York to play good, competitive basketball we wanted to give kids an opportunity to come right across the street like every other neighborhood to play competitive basketball.”
Now he’s speaking their language.