Basketball action photo of Kyle HinesUNCG’s Fleming Gym was packed. The student section was going crazy. Who knew you were seeing the future superstar of the Euroleague (Kyle Hines)? Or seeing the future NBA MVP (Stephen Curry)? The Spartan fans were lost in the moment as Hines made 13 of 16, outscoring Curry and grabbing 15 rebounds.

The following season, 2008, Hines and Kevin Oleksiak led the Spartans to a 20 point lead, till Curry led a ferocious comeback. Hines had 27 points, Curry had 41. The packed gym was hot on that snowy night. The students experienced another epic game. “The atmosphere of those games was incredible,” Hines recalled this week. “I vividly remember all the students and all the Spartan fans in their Blue and Gold T-shirts screaming and loudly cheering all of us on.”

The next season, Fleming Gym simply could not accommodate the demand for tickets. UNCG hosted its very first “home game” in the Greensboro Coliseum – against Stephen Curry’s Davidson Wildcats. The Spartan team had never heard such a boisterous home crowd – nearly 12,000 fans, many of them wearing “I prefer my Curry mild!” buttons – and they created special memories. When it was apparent in the final moments that Davidson would prevail, the crowd gave the Spartans – and both teams – a big ovation. Sportsmanship is a Spartan trait.

Tom Martin, one of UNCG’s first men’s basketball players and longtime season ticket holder, recently reminisced on that game and the big ovation. “We respected each other. And the people respected good basketball.”

Fact is, each SoCon season brings special moments and match-ups for the Spartans. The student section enjoys T-shirts thrown into the crowd, contests during time-outs, occasional tailgate parties before the tip-off. And there’s great basketball action.

UNCG makes its mark each year. Take last year’s game at Indiana University’s storied Alumni Hall, when Clay Bird and Nick Paulos drained a combined dozen 3-pointers and the contest against the Hoosiers went to the wire. The season before, UNCG’s victory at the ACC’s Virginia Tech marked the second Spartan victory over an ACC team.

Hines remains one of only six NCAA players to get 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks in their career, joining Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Pervis Ellison and Derrick Coleman. He currently plays for basketball power CSKA Moscow.

A few years ago he led Greek Olympiacos to back-to-back championships in the Euroleague. See a highlight from a title game. He always enjoys coming back to UNCG – and tweeting notes from Europe about his alma mater after a big win.

Hines reminisced recently. “Steph and I had some epic battles and some memorable games against each other. I still remember the game when he went off in the second half for 41 points and we lost a close game to him. I saw him a couple of summers ago during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, and that was the first thing we talked about – how crazy that game was.” It’s a part of Spartan lore.

Hines and Curry vied for the MVP spot in the SoCon year after year, Tom Martin points out. Hines was voted MVP in 2007. Curry was MVP in 2008 and 2009.

Former Spartan stand-out Mikko Koivisto, who plays professionally in Europe, was asked about these two. “I think Kyle was and still is one of the most dominant players I’ve ever played with. Stephen is one of the most dominant players Ive played against so it’s tough to say who was better. I respect both of them and what they’ve achieved, and I’m fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to play with and against guys like them.”

Koivisto knows he was a part of something special, as he recalls the “rocking” atmosphere and the increasingly big games. “I think that was the beginning for our new journey that included the Coliseum and a really high major schedule.”

Hines echoes that thought. “We were able to bring a new excitement to the campus and the Greensboro community that helped create a lasting legacy.”

The upcoming Spartan season is promising. And fans know you never quite know who will emerge as the stars. One thing they can count on is spirited, fun basketball evenings full of blue and gold – with memories that last a lifetime.

By Mike Harris
Visuals: Mikko Koivisto guards Stephen Curry, at Greensboro Coliseum. Kyle Hines, with Kevin Oleksiak in the background.

Post updated with additional information 6:30 p.m.