Kyle Hines' eventual goal is to reach the NBA, but for now he's having the time of his life honing his craft in Italy.
That doesn't mean that he doesn't miss being in the United States, but the former Inquirer all-South Jersey basketball player from Timber Creek is enjoying his time on and off the court while competing for Prima Veroli of the Italian League 2, a second-division team.
The team had a break for the holiday, so Hines returned on Monday to South Jersey and he will depart for Italy today.
"I'm just loving it," Hines said after attending Tuesday's 65-53 win by Camden Catholic over Timber Creek. "I'm playing basketball for a living, learning a new culture and so far it's been a great experience."
Hines enjoyed a celebrated career at University of North Carolina-Greensboro. He set school records with 2,187 career points, 1,047 rebounds and 349 blocks. As a senior last season, he averaged 19.2 points, which was second in the Southern Conference behind a pretty fair player named Stephen Curry of Davidson.
At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Hines is considered sort of a "tweener" by NBA standards. Hines has played power forward most of his career, but in the NBA, his size is more suited to the small-forward position.
After being bypassed in the NBA draft, he attended a mini-camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then played for the Charlotte Bobcats' summer league team.
Hines said he could have gone to training camp with either team, but the chance for a guaranteed contract in Italy was too good to pass up. He is earning a tax-exempt salary of $180,000.
Veroli, which according to Hines is about an hour outside of Rome, has been the ideal place to take up residence.
"It's a great cultural experience, and I'm learning the language little by little," he said.
On the basketball front, in the first 13 games he has averaged 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in 31.2 minutes.
"I wanted to go to a place where I could develop, and plus the fans have been great," he said. "The people in the town really take pride in the team."
He said the home games draw between 5,000 and 6,000 people.
According to those who know him best, the success Hines has earned couldn't have come to a more deserving recipient.
"He's one of the greatest kids I've ever been around," said Gary Saunders, his former head coach at Timber Creek. "You feel fortunate to coach people like Kyle."
Hines left in mid-August for training camp, and this was his first time home since then. He has always had an affinity for both South Jersey and his former high school.
As a senior at Timber Creek in 2004, Hines averaged 23.7 points and 14.7 rebounds. He played three varsity seasons, scoring 1,426 points. Hines also had the distinction of playing on the inaugural varsity team for Timber Creek.
He has also taken great pride in how far the program has developed.
Hines was beaming when discussing the South Jersey Group 3 title that Timber Creek won last season in its seventh year of existence. His brother, Tyler, was a key member of last season's team and is currently playing for the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, where he is averaging 5.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes a game.
"I think I was more excited than anybody when Timber Creek won the championship last year," Kyle Hines said. "My brother was on that team, and I saw many of those players from when they were in the fifth and sixth grade, and to see what they accomplished was pretty special."
Hines said his season in Italy could last until as late as May, depending on how far the team advances in the postseason.
After that, he said he hopes to go to another mini camp, hook up with another NBA team in the summer league and continue to keep his NBA dream alive.
Yet he also realizes that not everybody can play in the NBA, and he is trying to enjoy the moment of playing in Italy rather than constantly looking ahead.
Too many athletes complain about what they don't have. Hines is counting his blessings that he is able to play for pay in the game he loves. And whether it's in the United State or Europe, Hines understands that playing ball, a year removed from college, sure beats looking for a regular job.