Kyle Kuric: 'I almost lost my life'

Apr 26, 2019 by Andy West, Print
Kyle Kuric: 'I almost lost my life'

Kyle Kuric has come a very long way from starting his European career at Madrid-based team Estudiantes to playing now in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs.

But telling the Barcelona shooter's tale could never be simply reduced to his sporting exploits, because in the middle of his career, Kuric had to overcome something far more serious than anything he will ever encounter on a basketball court: a life-threatening brain tumor.

It was November of 2015 and Kuric was playing for Herbalife Gran Canaria. His team was flying to mainland Spain for a domestic league game against Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, before then heading straight onto a 7DAYS EuroCup encounter at ALBA Berlin.

"I felt like I had a knot in my head."

Kuric takes up the story. "We had an early morning flight from Gran Canaria and I had to rush to the airport because I'd overslept and I was late," he recalls. "I had a headache but I attributed that to waking up late, being rushed and not eating breakfast. So I slept the whole flight and still didn't really feel right, but I didn't think it was anything serious.

"When we arrived in Vitoria we had practice, and I was kind of alright but the headache just kept going. I took various medicines but it didn't get better. We started the warm-up for the game and I felt like I had a knot in my head, and when I started to back-pedal, I just knew I couldn't do it. I was done, it hurt too much. I had to go and sit down. It kept getting worse and worse, and every time I stood up I was dizzy.

"I couldn't play in the game, and went to hospital that night in Bilbao, and they basically told me everything was fine. I requested an MRI scan because my father was a neurosurgeon, my mom is a nurse, and my wife's best friend is a doctor, and they all said: 'Get an MRI'. But the hospital wouldn't give it to me. They said: 'You'll be fine, just take some medicine.'

"The next morning we traveled to Barcelona, where we were spending one night before getting a connecting flight to Berlin for a EuroCup game. We practiced, but I couldn't do it. I just stayed in the locker room with the lights out, feeling like I had a migraine. So I went to another hospital, requested an MRI, but again they said no. They just told me to just go back to Gran Canaria and rest.

"Barcelona is the city that saved my life."

"But before I could go home, when I woke up the next morning – still in Barcelona – I missed breakfast, felt terrible, took a shower, got very dizzy and vomited everywhere. So I again went back to the hospital and they finally gave me an MRI scan because I had vomited. From the results of the MRI, they could see straight away: brain tumor.

"When I received the results, I called my dad and I called my wife. From that moment, I remember very little, only bits and pieces. But I do know that within 48 hours, I was having surgery. My wife flew over from Gran Canaria and brought our twin boys, and I remember sitting on the bed, holding both of them, about to go into surgery.

"At the time I didn't completely understand what was going on, and I was very matter of fact about it: they told me I had a brain tumor, so I just said 'OK, I have a brain tumor. What do we do?' For some reason, I wasn't scared. Honestly, I think I was ignorant about the whole thing and didn't realise how serious it was. I just thought 'Next week I'll be fine!' We had a Spanish league game that weekend against Tenerife, and I was convinced I was playing!

"After the surgery, my first memory is my wife being there, talking to me. I came around, and I don't know what she was saying but I remember her voice. But then I had some problems with swelling on the brain so they had to do a second surgery, and it reached a dangerous point when they had to take out all this swelling. That was pretty quick after the first surgery, and it was actually more serious than the first."

Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, Kuric survived to tell the tale and spent some time recuperating in Barcelona before making his comeback to action with Gran Canaria – far quicker than anyone expected – just five months after his serious double surgery.

Kuric completed his recovery and continued to score regularly with Gran Canaria and then Zenit St Petersburg, but it looked as though the chance to appear in Europe's top competition would pass him by. Until last summer, that is. At the age of 29, he was finally given the opportunity to join a EuroLeague club: Barcelona, the city where he nearly died.

Far from regarding the Catalan capital in a gloomy light, Kuric saw the move as a positive in more ways than one.

"Barcelona is the city that saved my life," he says. "So the opportunity to come here, it all just fitted together. Barca is also my favorite team, historically. I always liked playing here as an opponent, just the general feel of the place – the arena, the jerseys, the name. It always meant something for me. And Barcelona, the city, will always be special to me because of the treatment I received, which saved my life."

Kuric has a similarly upbeat philosophy about the illness that nearly killed him, regarding it as a defining moment for the better.

"That whole experience changed everything about me," he asserts.

"It's something that happens to a lot of people at an older age, when they have regrets or finally figure out life. It happened to me a lot younger, and I learned from it. There are often things that people want to do their whole life, but they never get around to it. Now, I don't put it off. Whatever it is, if I have the chance to do something, I do it. It doesn't matter if it's expensive or a little dangerous, I just don't want to have any regrets.

"Even little things like having two practices in a day. Maybe in the past I would have thought, 'Ugh, two practices. I really don't want to do that.' But after surgery I reached the point where I had trouble even standing up. I literally couldn't walk. So having two practices in a day, that's absolutely fine with me!"

"Now...if I have the chance to do something, I do it."

It's no surprise to learn that Kuric is relishing his first season in the continent's elite competition, saying:

"I'm very happy and excited to be playing in EuroLeague. I started out not even in the EuroCup. I was playing at a pretty low level, but I worked up to EuroCup and after four years I'm now in the EuroLeague. It has been an exciting challenge.

"And after what I went through, absolutely it means even more. That whole year was a huge deal. I almost lost my life. I wanted to come back quicker than the doctors said, and better than I was before, and I think I've done that. But every step of the way was a challenge."

A challenge? Surely that's the understatement of the year.