Obviously, those familiar with European basketball need no introduction to Kyle Hines. The pocket-sized center from Sicklerville, New Jersey, has taken the old continent by storm, winning four EuroLeague trophies with two teams over the course of the 2010 decade.
After lifting back-to-back titles with Olympiacos Piraeus in 2012 and 2013, Hines moved to CSKA Moscow, where he added more silverware to his collection. The Russian powerhouse won the 2016 and 2019 competition and Kyle Hines became its first-ever American captain.
Despite renewing his contractual vows with CSKA, the 34-year-old decided to leave the Russian capital in order to pursue a different challenge with Armani Milan. By moving to the Fashion Capital, the winningest active player in European basketball also joined his former coach, Ettore Messina, who was an assistant for Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs from 2014 to 2019. The Italian coach was the man that recruited Hines to CSKA Moscow in 2013 and the man to persuade the 6’6” center to add another chapter to his resume, seven years later.
The EuroLeague season for Armani Milan can already be labelled as a success, since the Italian side made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. It goes without saying that Hines and Messina are in good company: Malcolm Delaney, Luigi Datome, Sergio Rodriguez, Kevin Punter, Zach LeDay have offered significant help to the team at crucial moments. Nevertheless, where Milan is going to end up in the standings remains to be seen.
Following the second loss to Panathinaikos in the present campaign, Kyle Hines took the time to respond to a variety of questions, posed to him by TalkBasket.net: from working with Ettore Messina to the NBA offers he had while overseas and from undersized centers becoming extinct to the “dream teammate” he never had.
“Everybody is living in a difficult situation, in a difficult world right now, but I’m happy that me and my family are all healthy. We’re trying to adapt to a different city. It’s an adjustment after so many years in Russia, but we’re enjoying it”, Hines described his current status in the beginning of the interview.
Q: Do you think you lost both games to Panathinaikos this season in the same way?
A: Yes, the two games were not identical, but we were up in both of them. At one point, we had a 17-point lead, but they kept their attitude. They didn’t stop and kept playing. We took our foot off the gas a little bit and they were able to make hustle plays, get offensive rebounds, which led to three-pointers and easy baskets. We stopped converting on both ends.
Q: What does it take for Armani Milan to reach the EuroLeague elite?
A: We have to be more consistent in moments like this. We’ve had some great wins this year, but we have suffered losses like this, when we had control of the game and the opportunity to win, but we couldn’t finish it. The top-level, championship, Final 4 teams when they have a team down by 15 or 20, they try to get them down by 30 or 40. When we get this attitude, we will be able to take a step forward.
Q: Do you see any similarities between this Milan team and the 2011 Olympiacos team that were also rebuilding?
A: No, I think it’s a different team. We were a lot younger team. All of us were 24-25, besides Billy (Spanoulis). This team has a mixture of veterans and some younger players. It’s a team that it’s growing. Obviously, it’s our first year being together and we all want to fly, but in order to do that we have to take some steps.
Q: Coach Ettore Messina is the new member of the FIBA Hall of Fame. If you could single out one main trait of his, as a person and a coach, which would it be?
A: He has a great care for his team, both on and off the court. The way he cares for us and shows that is amazing. Also, his attention to detail on the court, which everyone knows he is a specialist at. We feel very fortunate and lucky to be able to learn from a Hall of Famer everyday.
Q: To what extent has he changed since you last worked together at CSKA?
A: He’s gotten older (laughs). That’s about it. He’s still the same coach and he still demands the same perfection from his players. Not much changed, but I don’t expect him to change. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason. He’s trying to bring the Spurs culture to Milan and Europe. Obviously, the team has had some down years in the past and he’s trying to change the culture of the club by making everybody accountable and create a team-oriented, family-oriented culture. I think he has done a good job so far.
Q: Throughout your career you have been an eloquent speaker. You are hosting a EuroLeague podcast and are the VP of the EuroLeague Players Association. Do you intend to take up a job at the communications sector after your playing time is over?
A: I don’t know, I have no idea. Right now, the stuff that I do is like I hobby, like something that I enjoy doing it. Some people play PlayStation, I enjoy learning about media. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, I still have a couple more years left to play.
Q: In this sense, is Milan the last destination in your career?
A: Ah, who knows, who knows? The only thing I envision is us winning titles. Then, I will be walking off into the sunset like John Wayne!
Q: How is it to be considered in the States as the greatest or the winningest American to have ever played in Europe?
A: I am humbled when people say that. It’s not something I was shooting for, but I am humbled to be in the category or mentioned in the breath of some of the great players that have played in Europe.
Q: Are undersized centers becoming out of fashion as time goes by?
A: I think so. You don’t see as many of us still here. The game has evolved. Guys are getting bigger and now you see a lot of taller players, like Tavares, the two Fall guys or even Papagiannis. It’s maybe because the NBA is becoming positionless and a lot more guys are coming over here. Right now, it’s me, Dunston, Othello Hunter – and all of us 35 plus. History always repeats itself and that’s the way the world works. Usually, people copy what the most successful teams are doing. There’s been so many successful centers, like Milutinov and Papagiannis. If they keep piling up numbers, people will want to sign them.
Q: Were you ever close to signing with an NBA team while in Europe?
A: I had a couple of opportunities, but nothing I legitimately looked at, because I have been with CSKA for the last seven years. So, for me that was where I wanted to be and I never really looked for another opportunity.
Q: Which player would you love to have had as a teammate and it didn’t happen?
A: I’ve played with all the greats, so it’s hard to say … I guess, Diamantidis. I always loved the way he played and I know that him and Mike Batiste had a great connection. To play against him for so many years and to see the way and the style he plays, if I could name one player, it would be him.