WALTHAM, Mass. — Four minutes after the basketball game started, Keegan Hyland got the signal from his coach: you’re in. Twelve seconds later he missed a layup.
Four minutes after he checked into the game between the College of Saint Rose and Bentley University, Hyland was subbed out. He had contributed a defensive rebound and an assist. There wasn’t a hint of disappointment or frustration on his face when he took his seat on the Bentley bench.
Four long years after Maine high school basketball fans debated whether Indiana Faithfull of Cheverus or Hyland of South Portland was the state’s best player, Hyland is finally playing regularly again.
It doesn’t matter if his role is star, starter or substitute. It doesn’t matter anymore if it’s a NCAA Division I program heading back to the national tournament or a Division II team that gets little exposure in its Boston suburb.
Hyland is happy. He returned to last week’s Northeast-10 Conference game to score nine points in 24 minutes in the 95-87 victory over Saint Rose, a Division II school from Albany, N.Y. Three days later he came off the bench again to score 16 points in 16 minutes in a 65-62 road loss to Pace, another New York university.
“I’m rusty,” he said after Bentley’s win last week. “My cardio is a work in progress.” He fell ill with mononucleosis as the season started and missed nine games, returning after the holidays. “I felt the lumps (on the lymph nodes in his neck) and said, ‘oh, no.’ ”
As in oh, no, not again. Hyland last played a full season of basketball as a junior at South Portland. It’s been five years of setbacks and potholes. Broken bones, a concussion and the doubts of others that all the promise he showed on a basketball court would be realized.
An honor student, he’s attending classes on his fifth college campus: Gonzaga University in Washington state, Vermont, Southern Maine Community College, Fairfield University in Connecticut and Bentley.
At Fairfield, Hyland was injured again. He was told he could stay on an academic scholarship but the coaching staff saw no future in his ability to play basketball at a high level.
Hyland didn’t agree. He found Bentley and Coach Jay Lawson. “I couldn’t touch him when he was in high school,” said Lawson. “He had bigger goals. He wanted to be a Division I player and he has those skills.”
Hyland’s dreams have been modified and maybe even his passion.
“I got caught up in wanting to be a Division I basketball player. My friends, people around me, the media, everyone kept saying I could.” Hyland listened and believed. Why not? He had worked so hard developing his skills. One example: he would stay on the court until he made 1,000 shots.
He is a 6-foot-4 guard who can shoot, rebound and pass. He has learned to appreciate his gifts and not flay them in a never-satisfied drive to be the best. He lived at the South Portland Rec Center as a young teen, shooting baskets in its gym and asking Matt Donahue to teach him the drills that would make him better.
Donahue was the Westbrook High and University of Southern Maine shooting phenom from another generation. An artist, Donahue’s home and studio were a short walk from the recreation center where he would find his relaxation playing basketball. Donahue and Hyland bonded.
The older player, who scored more than 50 points in a high school game in the late 1960s, did give Hyland a drill. “I told him to start praying.” Meaning, so much in life and in basketball just happens. How you handle those moments is the secret.
“We all get the same amount of good luck and bad luck,” said Donahue, back at the rec center gym during Wednesday’s snowfall. “Keegan has used up all his bad luck.”
Which may be why Hyland wears No. 13 at Bentley. He’s laughing in the face of his misfortune. The law of averages is on his side.
“I should be a senior but in basketball I’m really a rookie. This is my first year actually playing.” He smiled and shook his head. He’s 21 years old and a college junior.
He’s finding his game legs and soon, says Lawson, he’ll find his voice. Hyland is a leader.
“I am a vocal guy,” said Hyland, “but you can’t be when you’re on the sideline, not playing.”
Hyland visited with Donahue when returning to South Portland for the holidays this winter. Donahue saw a more relaxed, confident younger friend. The artist has introduced Hyland to people who can help a college graduate with a degree in business.
Hyland still has the goal of someday playing professionally in Europe. He can still think of what might have been.
“If I was 17 again and knew what I know now, would I have made the same decisions (such as chase his dream to Gonzaga and then leave)? That’s a good question. I was looking for the wrong things. I put values on different things.
“I would have a long talk with myself. I’ve learned that.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: