Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer
When Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was a freshman at St. Georges Technical High School, his coach, Rod Griffin, asked him what his five-year plan was.
Hyland told Griffin a simple plan: graduate high school, play one year of college basketball and then get drafted into the NBA. The then-high school freshman’s dream quickly became a reality, starring at VCU for two seasons before entering the draft this year.
“He was right, but he was one year off,” Griffin said.
Hyland’s dream came true when the Denver Nuggets selected him 26th overall in the NBA draft on July 29. He became the first sophomore in VCU program history to be a first-round pick.
He joined former basketball athletes Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders in the program’s record books as the only three players to be selected in the opening 30 picks.
“The energy went through the roof when his name got called,” said VCU assistant coach J.D. Byers, who attended Hyland’s draft party in Wilmington, Delaware. “Just to see him hug his mom was a very special moment.”
Hyland said in the Nuggets post-draft press conference that he felt like he belonged in the Mile High City after his predraft workout with the team.
“The whole staff there — I just felt love from them and just feeling that love from a NBA team it’s like ‘wow,’ just a dream come true,” Hyland said.
Byers, who recruited Hyland to VCU, said his work ethic is what made him a good fit for the black and gold and a first-round NBA draft prospect.
“Whatever you gave Bones that day, he attacked it,” Byers said. “That’s why he just kept getting better and better and put himself in this position.”
That work ethic and the desire to get better didn’t start at VCU — it had already been ingrained in Hyland’s head since high school.
Griffin said that when he would drive Hyland home from practice he would often ask to be dropped off in another gym so he could get work in with other coaches.
“Even after we practiced for a couple of hours he would go home and work on his game at a city gym,” Griffin said. “The work ethic was unparalleled.”
Hyland said he would fit the underdog culture that Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly has built in recent years led by 2021 NBA MVP center Nikola Jokić, who was picked 41st in the 2014 draft.
“The Nuggets are full of underdogs,” Hyland said. “Some were taken late, but you can just tell they play with that chip on their shoulder. I know I’m going to fit in with them right away.”
Passion for the game is something Griffin said Hyland has always had, which has helped him succeed over other talented players.
“His fire for the game is just intense,” Griffin said. “I love it because he’s always had that –– some guys are really, really talented but they don’t have that type of fire in them.”
Griffin first saw Hyland in the eighth grade at a travel basketball game and he saw the beginning of what the Wilmington, Delaware, native would do for the rest of his career.
“I was like, man, that little skinny kid there is feisty, but he’s good too,” Griffin said. “He was really a leader playing the point guard position, could shoot the ball and had tremendous intensity as an eighth grader.”
That intensity carried over to his time as a Ram where he was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie first team as a freshman and A-10 Player of the Year as a sophomore. He led the team in scoring averaging 19.5 points his sophomore season, leading them to an A-10 championship game appearance.
During his junior year of high school, Hyland was involved in a house fire that killed his grandmother and cousin. After this event, Byers said there are people who look at Hyland as hope that no matter what circumstances you come from, hard work can lead to success.
Byers said that Hyland doesn’t plan on just being in the NBA, he plans on staying in the NBA.
“He’s going to keep working and maybe even work harder to continue to give those people that look up to him or hear about his story hope,” Byers said.
Hyland got his first taste of NBA basketball as a part of the Nuggets Summer League team. In four games, Hyland finished 3rd in summer league, averaging 19.8 points — shooting 40% from deep. Hyland also added 4.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds.
Griffin said that it’s not just Hyland’s story of overcoming adversity that draws support from fans but also that he is simply a fun player to watch. Hyland’s tragedy in high school didn’t stop him from fulfilling his goal he set forth as a freshman, according to Griffin.
“It’s no harm being down on the carpet, but if you stay on the carpet and don’t get up and fight again, then shame on you,” Griffin said. “But he got up and kept fighting and look where he’s at.”