Provo • Tyler Haws was literally half a world away while Jimmermania was sweeping the country, Brandon Davies was dealing with the honor code and BYU was joining the West Coast Conference.
Serving an LDS Church mission in the Philippines, Haws was also far away from playing competitive basketball, unless one considered an occasional pickup game on dirt courts against guys half his size, playing in bare feet or flip-flops a real basketball experience.
“I stuck out like a sore thumb,” said the BYU sophomore. “Most of the time in the Philippines, people haven’t seen white people at all there, let alone a white guy who is 6-foot-5. So I got a few weird looks.”
Haws is still getting a lot of attention these days, but for entirely different reasons. Although he was left off the preseason all-WCC team, picked by coaches most likely unaware of what he did as a freshman in the Mountain West Conference, Haws figures to be the Cougars’ second-leading scorer this season, behind Davies, a league MVP candidate.
“He hasn’t missed a beat,” said senior Brock Zylstra. “People in our league are going to be surprised at how good he is.”
No question, Haws was good as a freshman. He averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a game for the 2009-10 team coached by Dave Rose that got the school’s first NCAA Tournament win since 1993 — a 95-85 double-overtime victory over Florida. Haws earned all-MWC third-team honors and finished the season having made 48 straight free throws, a school record he will try to prolong when the Cougars host Tennessee State in the season opener on Friday at the Marriott Center.
As BYU followers are well aware, some returned missionaries never rediscover their games, while others struggle their first year back. A few, such as 2011 graduate Jackson Emery, pick up right where they left off.
Having coached dozens of them through the years, Rose expects that Haws will fall in the latter category, due to his tremendous work ethic and the fact that he returned home nearly six months ago, last April.
“Tyler is a guy who is so disciplined to his schedule. He’s a routine guy. And he loves his routine. And that routine is something that really pushes him and helps him and gives him a lot of confidence,” Rose said. “The fact that he got home in late April has given him a lot of time. I think he is really excited to embrace the fact that we need him right now.
“It is not like we need to work him in,” Rose continued. “He sees that three spot as a spot that we really need to fill, that spot that Charles [Abouo] played in the two years that he was gone. And I think he’s excited to be thrown right back in there.”
So far, Haws’ play has done nothing to whittle the confidence that Rose and his teammates have in his full-bore return. The Lone Peak High product had a game-high 26 points in the Cougar Tipoff, an intrasquad scrimmage, on 9-for-17 shooting from the field. He had 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting in the first exhibition game, against Southeastern Oklahoma, along with four assists and four rebounds in a team-high 29 minutes.
“My body feels as good as it did when I left. Thankfully, I had six months. So I worked into it slowly and didn’t have to rush it.” Haws said. “My shooting came around. Now it feels great. I worked really hard in the summer to get my shooting back to where I feel comfortable again. I feel like I can hit the same kind of shots I did before my mission, maybe even some longer-range shots.”
Rose said some missionaries return, but their on-court confidence doesn’t. Not so with Haws, who started 33 games as a freshman after earning 5A MVP honors three straight years at Lone Peak.
“His confidence is every bit as good as it was,” Rose said. “That’s what usually takes some time. But Tyler works so hard. He’s so committed and dedicated to not only his own team, but his own progress and improvement. He’s coming along well, and he’s already had some early success that he can build on.”
Haws lost about 10 pounds on his mission, but says he is now back at his prime playing weight and perhaps a little bit stronger than three years ago when he complemented then-junior Jimmer Fredette so well on that 2009-10 team. Davies, who was also a freshman that year, has noticed the change.
“With Tyler and how he is, everyone knew he would be back to where he was in no time,” Davies said. “If anything, he’s making strides past where he was as a freshman. From everything I have seen, he’s better.”
Tyler Haws — the last time
BYU forward Tyler Haws’ freshman season (2009-10):
• Averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game
• Named to All-MWC Third Team and All-MWC Academic Team
• Made his last 48 free-throw attempts, a school record
• Scored in double figures 21 times, was 15th in MWC in scoring