LOS ANGELES – Bones Highland still doesn’t know what killed him.
It was training camp at the University of California San Diego. Hyland was pushing full-court, playing his own personal brand of high-octane basketball.
Then, bam! Hyland breaks out on a blinded screen.
“I forgot who it was, but it felt like my head came off my shoulders,” Hyland told the Monday morning shootaround ahead of Denver’s preseason opener versus The Clippers. “Bol was in my team, he didn’t call on screen. I said, ‘Dang, speak! How will you not call it?’ That was my welcome-to-NBA moment. ”
Hyland’s moment had nothing to do with Chris Paul or Damien Lillard being stranded on an island. It wasn’t a Sunday afternoon, when most of the Nuggets sat in a suite at Los Angeles’ Sophie Stadium for a Rams-Cardinals game. Instead, Hyland’s moment came courtesy of friendly fire.
Barely a week into the camp, Hyland had already made a strong impression on teammates. Although still a rookie, when asked by various nuggets which player had the best handles, the majority cast their vote to Hyland. The slippery guard has an uphill battle to get the minutes on Faisundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers or PJ Dossier, but their scoring adds a different dimension, especially from Campazzo or Dossier. Nuggets coach Michael Malone has already praised his attacking ability.
“He loves to act, he’s aggressive, he’s a charming young guy, which is always nice when they don’t think they know everything,” Rivers said. “He wants to learn, he wants to play. He’s going to be a good player, man. Bones will be good. He definitely has a good handle.”
Hyland, who had already been playing the pick-up game at Denver’s gym before the pre-season began, said his recipe for earning the respect of his teammates was simple: Show up early.
“I have a different level of work ethic in showing people here that I’m here to help you guys win,” Hyland said. “I know I’m coming off as a rookie, I have to make my stamp, make my mark early, and make that impression quick. So I did it when we were in the open run, my sharp handles, My different paces. … I showed them what I was capable of doing quickly.”
With nothing guaranteed in the regular season, Highland’s best chance of making a mark could be against the Clippers, Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder in the coming weeks. And if his minutes are limited once the games begin to count, Hyland assures his infectious outlook isn’t going to change.
“I’m gonna be the same,” Hyland said. “Off the court, if I am not playing, I am like a fan to my players. I want to bring that extra joy.”