Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
On the outside of their hands, just under the pinky finger, is a tattooed acronym: “TG4L.” The phrase is more than just ink on the skin — it’s a connection that two men’s basketball players share on and off the court.
For sophomore guard Bones Hyland and freshman guard Ace Baldwin, “TG4L,” or “Tressi gang for life,” exemplifies a brotherhood that extends beyond basketball.
“It stands for the three sign, but it goes deeper than that,” said Hyland, a perimeter shooter with a knack for knocking down deep shots. “I met Ace through basketball, but we clicked like we knew each other our whole life.”
Baldwin echoed Hyland’s sentiment.
“He’s like my brother,” Baldwin said. “It really goes deep.”
Being as close as family was the topic of discussion for the two guards during a short meeting on Zoom. They laughed and sat together in the Basketball Development Center’s locker room after a practice last week, prepping for the Nov. 26 season opener against Charlotte.
The two are close with each other’s family, especially their mothers.
“If I need something from his mom, she’s always there,” Hyland said. “If he ever called on my mom, she’d be right there for him.”
Assistant coach Jamal Brunt, who went to the same high school as Baldwin and recruited him to VCU, said the mutual respect the players have for each other allowed them to grow closer.
“I think they’ve been good friends, and they’ve always supported one another through tough times,” Brunt said. “For them, they really are like family.”
Brunt said Baldwin and Hyland’s daily interactions with each other show their relationship is on a deeper level.
“They’re very, very connected off the floor,” Brunt said. “The way they hang out, the way they talk, the way they interact with one another, you can tell there’s almost a genuine relationship deeper than just a friendship level.”
At practice, the two aren’t afraid to call each other out during drills or workouts, Brunt said.
“They’re always pushing one another to be better,” Brunt said. “They’re always holding each other accountable to be at their best. As a coach, that’s what you want.”
The duo first met on a basketball court, playing on opposite teams in an AAU tournament in New York.
Hyland, who played with Team WeR1, said he didn’t know Baldwin before the game. Afterward, the Wilmington, Delaware, native left stunned that Baldwin dropped 30 points in the game.
“I was like ‘who the hell is that?’” Hyland said. “He comes in, he’s not even that tall, but he can score. He was out there torching them. After the game, I was like, ‘damn he just milked us.’”
Baldwin caught Hyland’s attention that day, and Hyland said he knew they would be like brothers soon after meeting the Baltimore native.
Standing at 6 feet tall, Baldwin became an elite high school player in Maryland. He averaged 14 points and six assists during the 2018-19 season at St. Frances, leading the team to Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Baltimore Catholic A-League championships. He was also named the 2019 All-Metro Player of the Year by the Baltimore Sun.
The bond that the two players have on and off the court led to Hyland committing to VCU in June 2019 — two months after Baldwin announced his commitment.
“I really only came because of Ace. I was not going to come,” Hyland said. “I just wanted to hoop with broski. Bro is talented and I just wanted to play with him.”
The way Baldwin plays is something unique, Hyland said.
“Everything is him being him and you can’t take that away from him,” Hyland said of Baldwin. “A lot of players nowadays try to mimic their game after somebody else because they don’t have that confidence in them. He’s got it himself.”
For Hyland, having Baldwin in Richmond brings joy to him each day.
“I show up to practice with a smile on my face every day just because my brother is here with me,” Hyland said. “There’s another connection with me and him. It’s something that I look forward to.”
The duo will compete as collegiate teammates for the first time this season on Nov. 26 as the Rams travel to Knoxville to play Charlotte and Tennessee.