Somewhere in Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday afternoon Fran McCaffery had to be unknowingly overcome with emotion that extended beyond typical Mother's Day festivities and all the way to London for the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four.
Long before he roamed the sidelines as head basketball coach at the University of Iowa, McCaffery spent six seasons at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, leading the Spartans to a March Madness trip in 2001. Yet three years later the coach's scouting and recruiting acumen helped produce a more memorable feat if you ask anyone familiar with what Kyle Hines has accomplished in his professional career and for freshly crowned repeat Final Four champions, Olympiacos Piraeus.
Trailing by 17 points at the end of the first quarter, Olympiacos' chances against Real Madrid seemed slim to none.
But the Reds did what they do best: scrapped, fought, played aggressive and when all 6-foot-6, 245 pounds of Hines chased down and blocked Nikola Mirotic's break-away lay-up in the third quarter, the sold out O2 arena in London had to know this would be Olympiacos' night. A quarter later, they were back-to-back Euroleague champs with Hines finishing with 12 points (4-4 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks.
That now makes two Euroleague titles, Germany's BEKO BBL MVP and All-Star Game MVP (2011) honors and an Italian League Second Division MVP (2009) award in Hines' six-year pro career. Not bad for an undersized center who remains the shortest center in the Euroleague but plays bigger and better than the majority of ideal big men overseas.
Nine years ago though, the only number Hines was thinking about was one -- as in one school, one coach who made an investment in making Hines a priority during a time when a number of schools wouldn't even throw a scholarship the New Jersey natives' way.
Sad but true.
But at UNC Greensboro, McCaffery saw something special in Hines and everyone who has watched Hines play from Italy, to Germany to Greece actually owes McCaffery a debt of gratitude for not seeing Hines' height and body type and trying to convert him into a guard or swingman as does become the case many times at the college, D-League, NBA and international level.
If so, we'd all be robbed like Mirotic was.
Robbed at the opportunity to be in awe of Hines' overall ability, tenacity on the floor and unforgettable story.
At UNC Greensboro, Hines earned Freshman of the Year honors in the Southern Conference then proceeded to take the record book and write his name all over it, just so all of those other programs realized what they passed up. By the time he graduated in 2008, Hines left as the school's all-time leading scorer, rebounder and is one of only six players in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks in a career, joining Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Pervis Ellison and Derrick Coleman on the esteemed list. Meanwhile, McCaffery had the privilege of coaching three consecutive rookies of the year at that point in his coaching career, with Hines winning the award in the Southern Conference in McCaffery's final year in UNC Greensboro.
"I also owe a lot of my freshman success to coach Fran McCaffery. I feel that he gave me a lot of confidence by putting me in positions on the floor where he knew I could succeed," Hines said last year in an interview with CollegeHoops.net.
"Initially it was not easy because Coach McCaffery's move (leaving for Iowa) was very unexpected... Coach Mac was one of the main reasons that I chose to attend UNCG."
McCaffery became a Hawkeye after coaching Hines for two seasons.
Hines would go undrafted and all the way to Italy's second division with Prima Veroli for two seasons.
That's where Brendan Rooney, Brose Baskets Bamberg's Scouting Director, spotted the undersized center and knew he would fit the defensive toughness system head coach Chris Fleming implemented in Germany's BBL and in 2011, Hines helped Bamberg capture the BBL title before Olympiacos came calling.
The rest is history -- a rich past the last two seasons that has yielded two Euroleague titles which have become instant classics against CSKA Moscow last season and Real Madrid this season. Hines is as important to that success as Georgios Printezis hitting a baseline floater over Andrei Kirilenko or Vassilis Spanoulis going for 22 points and hitting 5 3-pointers in Sunday's 100-88 win over Real Madrid. At center court, Hines hoisted the Euroleague championship as ticker tape fell from the ceiling and the rest of the Olympiacos' organization celebrated with joy and excitement and what they just accomplished.
You have to wonder if Kyle Hines was thinking about his long road to London and how Fran McCaffery's helping hand helped pave the way there.