Christmas comes early for Nuggets rookie Julyan Stone
It’s a simple message around the holiday season.
For Julyan Stone, it’s a mantra 365 days a year.
Largely ignored by college recruiters out of high school, Stone went from the beaches of Southern California to the sagebrush of El Paso, Texas, and dished out more assists than anyone in Conference USA history.
Undrafted out of UTEP, Stone signed with the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 9 and went to work proving himself all over again.
As the NBA prepared to celebrate Christmas with the first games of the 2011-12 season, the best present Stone received wasn’t wrapped with a fancy bow or placed under any tree. His hard-earned gift was seeing his name on an NBA roster.
“It’s a great present,” he said. “It’s something I always dreamed about. For it to happen this time of year, it’s great. It’s a feeling I’ve been waiting to feel, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Just as Gary Forbes took some people by surprise by making Denver’s roster out of training camp last season, Stone is the feel-good story for the Nuggets in 2011.
“It’s the written story for me. It’s always been this way,” said Stone, a 6-foot-7 point guard. “I take that story and I run with it. I’m a hard-working guy, an underdog, and I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I don’t want anything given to me.”
Stone’s discipline and work ethic can be traced to his roots growing up as the youngest of three boys in Goleta, Calif. His parents were stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and his older brothers played a big role as mentors and protectors.
His oldest brother, J.T., was a highly recruited high-school quarterback who sacrificed a potential Division I college career, in part, to stay close to his baby brother after their parents divorced.
J.T. and Julyan recently created Big Picture Athletics, a non-profit community organization that helps develop young athletes, while also emphasizing academics, ethics, character and citizenship.
“J.T., he’s like my rock to this day,” Julyan said. “I can’t do anything without him. He’s invested his time to me being successful. I give all the glory to my mom, but J.T. really kept me on a straight line and was that father figure I looked up to.”
Julyan, 23, also is close to his other brother, Jason, despite being 10 years younger. Whenever possible, the two go into the music studio for some impromptu fun that often features Julyan trying out his freestyle rap.
“Jason was always the protector,” Julyan said. “He made sure people weren’t too close to me and they wouldn’t hurt me.”
Five years ago, Stone learned he also had a sister, and they quickly forged a tight bond. Though he will be away from his family on Christmas, they are never far from his thoughts. He has tattoos on his arms reading “Stone” and “Cooley,” (his mother’s maiden name) and he talks to his five nieces and nephews nearly every day.
“I have to talk to those kids,” Stone said. “If I don’t’ talk to them, I don’t’ know what to do. I can’t reiterate how much they mean to me and how close I am to them. I treat them like my own kids. It’s one of those things that makes me hungry and keeps me driven.”
The Nuggets coaching staff certainly has taken note of Stone’s work ethic. He has worked tirelessly with assistant John Welch trying to improve his shooting. Stone’s jump shot was one of the biggest question marks out of college.
“He’s a great kid who does everything we ask,” Welch said. “He makes good decisions, pushes the ball and defends. Everything about him, we like. If he improves his jump shot, he has a chance to be a good NBA player.”
With only two true point guards on the roster, Nuggets coach George Karl likes having Stone as someone who can give Ty Lawson and Andre Miller a rest during practice. He eventually could spend some time in the NBA Development League, but he will do whatever it takes to improve his game.
“You live for the day,” Stone said. “I could be here today, and I can be gone tomorrow. I try to leave an impression that I’m a hard worker and I love to play this game. In this business, and being young in this game, you have to be happy with what you get.”