International NBA Notebook: A Summer-League Baller's Showdown with Death

David Pick@@IAmDPickInternational Hoops InsiderJuly 14, 2016

Spanish hoop star Kyle Kuric had a brain tumor removed just months before flashing his skills at Las Vegas Summer League.
Spanish hoop star Kyle Kuric had a brain tumor removed just months before flashing his skills at Las Vegas Summer League.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Kyle Kuric felt like someone had been dribbling watermelons inside his head.

The booming was unbearable. He thought he was going nuts.

It started off the size of a tennis ball. But the former Louisville forward quickly realized the traumatic aching in his head required medical attention. His life was in danger.

Kuric—a fan favorite at Spain's Club Baloncesto Gran Canaria and now a Phoenix Suns summer-league starter—missed his team's 5:30 a.m. bus for a road game last October against Spanish rival Laboral Kutxa Vitoria. It was a morning he'll remember for the rest of his life.

"I woke up late and felt an irritating headache," Kuric said. "I thought it was early-morning stuff. Shootaround was all right, but I knew something was off. Then, during warm-ups for the game, I felt a piercing headache and told the coach I couldn't play," Kuric told Bleacher Report.

His pain was unendurable—borderline sickening. Kuric was rushed to the hospital with a severe headache. "Doctors gave me oxygen and fluids through an IV but said it wasn't a big deal, so I was released," he said.

The following morning, deja vu. Same headache, same nausea, same result. His team headed to Barcelona to play the Euroleague powerhouse, and Kuric went back to the hospital. His requests for a brain MRI were denied twice. Doctors insisted it was unnecessary.

Kuric was released from the hospital, but this time doctors refused to sign off on papers for him to travel to Germany for a EuroCup game against Alba Berlin. His condition worsened. The headaches and nausea were joined by dizziness and vomiting.

He returned to the hospital and received clearance for a scan. The diagnosis: a brain tumor.

Kuric and wife Taraneh spend time with their twin children at the hospital before a procedure.
Kuric and wife Taraneh spend time with their twin children at the hospital before a procedure.courtesy of Kyle Kuric

Kuric didn't fear death, but his wife, Taraneh, did. "She took it the hardest. We have twin sons, Arshan and Arsalan, who were three months old at the time. She couldn't believe it."

He spent the next 48 hours in a coma, hallucinating.

"I was hooked up to all sorts of machines and had some bizarre dreams that seemed so real," Kuric said. "I thought my wife was pregnant with a baby girl. Then I heard people talking to me through the air vents in the wall. I saw people going through the walls and bubble balloons floating around the room. The room changed a lot. It even went from hospital bed to a church party. I was all over the place."

His tumor had been removed, but his life still hung in the balance. Fluids mounted around his brain, causing a 33-degree intracranial pressure level. "The normal ICP level is 15. It can be dangerous if it reaches 22. Mine was 30-plus."

Kuric now wears this synthetic material at the front of his skull.
Kuric now wears this synthetic material at the front of his skull.photo courtesy of Kuric

"His forehead bone of his skull was causing pressure to his brain and had to be removed. I was told he could die,” said his agent, Guillermo Bermejo.

After repeated life-threatening surgeries, Kuric became the first-ever professional basketball player with an acrylic polymer implant—a synthetic 3D material scarred under his hair.

He couldn't stand or walk. He lost 30 pounds.

His immediate loved ones and team wanted to shut him down for the season, but Kuric had other ideas. "I just wanted to get out of the hospital," Kuric said. "I kept asking, how fast would I be able to play again? People think I have limitations, but that's all in the past."

Less than two months since the surgeries, Kuric was back on the hardwood to finish the Spanish ACB season. He is now a free agent, making a run at an NBA contract with the Phoenix Suns at the Las Vegas Summer League.

photo courtesy of Kyle Kuric

Regardless of where Kyle Kuric plays next season—Europe, Asia, the D-League or the NBA—better days are ahead.

   

Meet the "Other" Sixers First-Round Draft Pick

Only within the last year have French wingman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot's NBA dreams even grazed the idea of reality.

During the 2014-15 season, the first-round draft pick was mostly absent from scouts' radars. No general managers came to watch him. He was playing in the Pro B, the French minor leagues. He was the most talented on his team but came with question marks, immature by his own admission.

In 2015, it seemed as if he'd finally gotten a break—an invitation to work out for NBA teams at the Adidas Eurocamp. He arrived at the Italian border with an expired ID card and no passport. He was forced to cancel.

His coaches cried unprofessionalism, that he was a child, but his teammates defended him.

"He was acting up in practice, but I told Coach we can't win the title without him," said former NBA guard and teammate Will Solomon. "He was loud and joking all the time. He came late to everything—late to film, late to practice, late to the airports. He was a kid. He needed attention and guidance."

Luwawu-Cabarrot didn't seem to care. "I'd give excuses all the time like my alarm didn't ring for practice or I had problems with traffic," Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "Some s--t like that."

The Sixers are betting a first-round draft pick that those issues are behind him. Luwawu-Cabarrot, the 24th overall selection, could have the greatest immediate impact among the entire 2016 European NBA draft class. That includes fourth overall pick Dragan Bender.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot drives to the basket in a Summer League game vs. the Boston Celtics.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot drives to the basket in a Summer League game vs. the Boston Celtics.Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

This is all assuming, of course, that the aforementioned red flags are really just red herrings.

There's plenty to love. Luwawu-Cabarrot, 21, sports a 7'2" wingspan, big hands, above-average lateral quickness, open-court handles and above-the-rim ingenuity—all the things NBA GMs expect out of rotation wings.

"I see some Nicolas Batum in him," said Solomon, who mentored Luwawu-Cabarrot in the French Riviera, forming a Pro B championship-winning backcourt.

His parents divorced while he was a child. His father, Jean Luwawu, relocated to Paris and keeps their relationship alive via text messaging. Luwawu-Cabarrot doesn't speak much of his dad, but he acknowledges and appreciates him.

He grew up surrounded by women, sandwiched between younger and older sisters Anais and Naomie. His mother, Beatrice Cabarrot, became his closest friend, though he said she had zero influence in his pursuit of the NBA. Having both last names carved on his NBA uniform was crucial: "I wanted Luwawu-Cabarrot. These are the names on my passport. It's respectful of my parents."

"Not having a father in his life was tough for him," Solomon said.

Vedran Modric, a Balkans-based scout with Eurohopes.com, thinks the Sixers selected a high-value three-and-D-potential prospect. "He reminds me of Andre Roberson from OKC and Tony Snell of Chicago," Modric said. "He has great awareness in the open court, is a tough defender and his transition to the NBA will be immediate."

Luwawu-Cabarrot is even more bullish, telling Bleacher Report he views himself in the mold of current NBA superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, without hesitation.

   

Will Lakers Take a Flier on France Behemoth?

Lakers 7'2" Frenchman Moustapha Fall, 24, went undrafted in 2014, but he's used to being late to the party. The Paris-born hulk first picked up a basketball at 17—soccer was the only game he cared for until he was 14.

Fall comes with a massive 7'6" wingspan, a polished post game, savvy footwork and elbows that create space. He flashes a baby hook around the rim, using it to shoot a Pro A-best 73 percent from two-point range. He signed with French club Elan Chalon for the 2016-17 season but has a manageable $150,000 NBA out clause, should the Lakers or rival teams wish to bring him over.

Lakers Summer League center Moustapha Fall attempts to block a shot vs. the Warriors in Las Vegas.
Lakers Summer League center Moustapha Fall attempts to block a shot vs. the Warriors in Las Vegas.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Bleacher Report spoke with Fall, who, conveniently for Lakers fans, models his game after some recent Lakers alumni.

    

Bleacher Report: Who would you compare your game to?

Moustapha Fall: I'm tough to compare, but I like to watch Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Neither of them have the same profile as I; both aren't real physical, but I learn a lot from them and do the best I can to use both hands for shooting.

   

B/R: What's the end goal with joining the Los Angeles Lakers? Is there a minicamp invite?

MF: No. I'm with the Lakers for summer league. I don't want to think about the future too much, but I believe the Lakers have been following me, so I just want to give my best in Las Vegas and see what happens.

   

B/R: Were you expecting to get drafted in 2014? Does going undrafted fuel your motor to prove people wrong?

MF: No, I just took a risk and went for it. I knew the chances were small because I didn't have a good season, and my body wasn't prepared for the NBA. But I've been improving a lot. Maybe there's a team that wants to develop me, because I am going to get much better.

   

B/R: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

MF: I started my career in a small club with physical problems. I was too skinny. Nobody thought I could make it to the Pro A level, but I worked hard, won the championship in Pro B and I keep improving. I protect the rim, I'm a good finisher with soft hands, I added 10 pounds of muscle this past season and weigh around 250 pounds. I want to be more mobile and faster on the court.

   

B/R: What are your thoughts on the small-ball movement in the NBA? Is there still room for 7-footers?

MF: The NBA is smaller now, but guys like Boban Marjanovic and Rudy Gobert still have an impact on the game. Teams can't play small ball all the time. Everyone needs rim protectors. Maybe not for 30 minutes a game, but for sure 15-20 minutes. Teams that want to win need shot-blockers. Look what happened to Golden State in the Finals when Andrew Bogut finished the series? LeBron [James] and Kyrie [Irving] got to the rim more easily and Cleveland won the championship.

   

David Pick is a veteran pro basketball reporter covering overseas hoops and American players abroad since 2010. His work can also be found at Basketball Insiders. Follow him on Twitter at @IAmDPick.

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