How an AAU coach and a HORSE game sparked Clippers teammates — 10 years ago

Skip Robinson remembers with vivid clarity Bones Hyland’s Marcus Morris Sr. the moment he first met, because seeing a middle schooler challenge an NBA player 11 years his senior before even saying hello isn’t something you easily forget.

It was nearly a decade ago and Robinson, as Hyland’s coach for the Philadelphia Amateur Athletic Union, asked the guard about his goals. The answer was true, and guaranteed: the NBA. Robinson met someone who understood what it would take: A decade earlier, Robinson had coached an AAU team for Morris and his twin, Markieff. He arranged a meeting.

“We were in the gym getting ready for a tournament and the twins came up to me and Marcus was like, ‘Who’s the best kid right now?’ I said, ‘I think Bones has the most potential.’

“But at the time he weighed 115 pounds, he was probably 5-9. Marcus said, ‘What is it?'”

Said Morris: “He came out of the back like he did and it was long, as if to say the least.”

Robinson said, “Bones wouldn’t shake his hand until Marcus agreed to play one-on-one.”

“I just wanted to let him know,” Hyland said of the meeting, “I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve.”

Hyland and Robinson recall settling into the HORSE shooting game — an early display of raw confidence that has never wavered for Hyland in the decade since the two eventually became members of the Clippers.

Self-belief helped Hyland survive a life-changing fire that left a hole in his family and shattered knee to make it to the NBA only four years later. It was a quality the Clippers learned more about him ahead of the 2022 NBA draft. He pushed for a bigger role in Denver, and when his trade didn’t materialize.

When Hyland arrived in Los Angeles after February’s trade deadline, the Clippers lined up their locker room, at home and on the road, next to the one who knows how to drive Hyland so well: Morris. The veteran forward, now 33, likened the full-circle nature of his relationship with Hyland, 22, to that of an older brother.

“It’s a happy time for me because I know what we’re coming from,” Robinson said. “In Bones’ first AAU tournament, they might have had a plastic bag with, say, underwear and socks. (The Morris twins) didn’t come from much either. To see where they are now, it’s a win for me.

“I know he’s going to spend a lot of time around Marcus and that’s something I can sleep at night knowing he’s going to be around someone who has his best interests at heart. That’s an NBA vet who knows how to be a vet and what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.’

Morris and Hyland’s presentation did not create an instant friendship between the Millennial and Gen Z generations. The connection created awareness, as Morris watched over Hyland as he became a top 100 recruit, Hyland knew he had an open line with a player who, through Robinson, had already made his way to the NBA through uncertainty and tragedy.

Clippers’ Bones Hyland jokes with former Nuggets teammates as he returns to Denver.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Hyland was named Nah’shon at birth, but only her immediate family calls her by what she calls her “government name.” To the rest it’s Bones, a nickname given to him by a childhood friend nicknamed Chicken—really, he says—who took one look at his lean frame. Height belies overwhelming confidence. Hyland wanted to protect the biggest names on the Under Armor AAU circuit, including future NBA draft pick Anthony Edwards, who was built like a linebacker and relied on God-given energy. He went on group tours singing songs by Anita Baker, Freddie Jackson and Luther Vandross.

The artists are part of Hyland’s childhood soundtrack, learning to listen and harmonize while his mother played music while cleaning the family’s Wilmington, Del., home. And it was there, in 2018, that Hyland first smelled the smoke of a fire while watching an NCAA tournament game.

As the fire grew, Hyland recognized that her only way out was through her second-floor bedroom window. His right knee hit a brick stair on the landing. The rest of his body was saved from further harm by onlookers trying to catch his fall. He was taken to Children’s Hospital, where he was later diagnosed with a patellar tendonitis. It was the least of his losses. His grandmother, Fay, and two cousins, aged 3 weeks and 11 months, were trapped inside and later died of their injuries.

“I can sleep at night knowing I’ll be around someone who has his best interests at heart. That’s an NBA vet who knows … what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.”

– Skip Robinson Bones Hyland with his former AAU player, Marcus Morris Sr. Joining the NBA veteran on the Clippers

The Morris twins were high school students when they learned that the North Philadelphia home they lived in with their mother, Angel, and a brother, Blake, had burned down. A high school game was just hours away. They played anyway, and won, then went to their maternal grandparents’ house a few blocks away. The family said in a 2016 Bleacher Report story that, having lost almost all of their possessions, the boys slept in the basement and took turns bringing cans of kerosene bought at a nearby gas station back home for heating.

“I think for Bess the fire – and the twins too, especially (Marcus), pushed them into another space – they saw everything taken away and there was nothing they could do,” Robinson said. . “So they want to put so much heart and effort into making the league.”

When Hyland made the NBA, and Denver played in Philadelphia last season, just an hour from Wilmington, he met 40 Wilmington firefighters who helped put out a fire at his family’s home. He was presented with a personalized station jacket, with “Bones” written on the left chest.

“We’ve never talked about this, I think it’s so far away,” Morris said. “We talk about the future and being proud and whatever else he needs right now.

Marcus Morris Sr.  (far right) posed for a photo with an AAU team featuring Bones Hyland (fourth from left).

Marcus Morris Sr. (far right) posed for a photo with an AAU team featuring Bones Hyland (fourth from left).

(Courtesy of Skip Robinson)

“So where we’re from… there’s a tragedy that a lot of people are going through. We have never really felt sorry for ourselves. Just keep going.”

Hyland said her bond with Morris “goes deeper than that” as she shared her experience of loss.

“That’s a deep, deep sequence we go through,” she said, “but I feel like we just clicked from the first time we met.”

Hyland recently learned that they are both Virgos. Both, Robinson added, hated the conditioning workouts he did at local tracks, Hyland even hiding in a bathroom to avoid the three-mile warm-up after the 100- and 200-meter sprints. Their connection made Hyland an exception for Morris, who said he doesn’t often deal with young players.

The night before Hyland’s 2022 NBA draft to work out for the Clippers, he called Robinson and asked if “big bro” was in Los Angeles. It was Morris, and he took Hyland to lunch.

“That’s really like a big brother to me, a really close family,” Hyland said.

Marcus Morris Sr.  The Clippers forward grabs the basketball with both hands during a break in the game.

Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said he doesn’t often take young players under his wing, but he made an exception with a young Bones Hyland nearly a decade ago.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

When the Nuggets and Clippers played, Hyland and Morris would talk after the game about Morris’ kids or Hyland’s season. As Hyland and Denver headed for a breakup before last month’s trade deadline, Morris was the sounding board for how the team and the player’s role coming out of his All-Rookie season widened. In January, after Denver blew out the Clippers, players met with Robinson in the stands in Denver, and there were rumblings of a potential move, with each player saying they would be excited to play together.

“Just because you had to play a lot last year because guys got injured, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to play a lot this year,” Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth said in explaining the trade last month. . “I think it was always going to be a point of friction.”

Hyland told ESPN last month that he felt he was playing better in his second season, but that he was treated worse by the organization, citing a lack of communication. Hyland also left the bench in the middle of a game, encouraging team discipline.

While Hyland’s role with the Clippers is smaller than with Denver, the addition of veteran guard Russell Westbrook pushes Hyland from a fringe rotation candidate in the middle of a backcourt carnage to a scoring option used only on short nights. Coach Tyronn Lue has worked to keep Hyland engaged “through constant communication from the coaches.”

“And I think Marcus is helping too,” Lue added.

“I’m good at reading energy and what a lot of guys are going through,” Morris said. “This league is unforgiving, so man, you have to be close to the point, mentally, physically, everything has to line up. And a lot of the young guys, I think it’s not about the talent, it’s about the longevity and the business side and other things that you do with other organizations and the day-to-day stuff. I think they don’t realize that.

“I try to use my goal a little more than just talking about basketball, because basketball isn’t even a quarter of the situation.”

Sometimes, though, it’s just basketball. Two players and one ball. Who won that first game of HORSE?

“I don’t remember,” Hyland said, his answer less revealing than his smile.

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