Gordon Monson: Mark Pope has put BYU in Haarms’ way

Purdue center Matt Haarms (32) celebrates during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Iowa in West Lafayette, Ind., Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Purdue defeated Iowa 104-68. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Matt Haarms isn’t your typical BYU recruit. He didn’t grow up in Utah County. He didn’t play at Lone Peak High School. He isn’t from a Phoenix suburb or from some beach town in Orange County or from a farming community in Idaho. He didn’t grow up idolizing Jimmer Fredette. He isn’t even from the United States. He’s from Amsterdam. That’s right, he’s Dutch. And he’s not a long-term fix, or projected as a fix on down the line.

But he’ll be a fine fit for a basketball program in need of fine fits.

Haarms was one of the top available transfers — some say the top available transfer — in the college game, and he did something remarkable in deciding to come to BYU.

He turned down Kentucky and Arizona — and five fistfuls of other suitors who jumped all over him after he announced that he was leaving Purdue as a grad transfer, where he had played the previous three seasons.

That normally does not happen.

In fact, nobody has ever previously uttered this sentence: “No thanks, John Calipari, offer me what you will, but I’m taking my talents to Provo.”

Athletes typically have to have reasons to go to BYU, and Haarms’ impetuses have little to do with religion, with clean living, with desperation, with the mountains, with familial patterns or traditions of the past, with any connection to a campus he’s never visited.

Nee, nee, nee.

His reasons pivot on O&P.

Opportunity and Pope.

The Cougars need someone like Haarms, and there aren’t many like him.

He’s 7-foot-3 and averaged two blocks last season, better than that the season before. He didn’t score a whole lot on average, just single digits, but he did prove himself capable when called upon, putting 26 points on Minnesota, and he was particularly effective in Purdue’s NCAA Tournament games. As you might expect at his height, he can hit the boards, too, but his numbers there (4.6 last season, down from 5.4) need to improve.

Part of his problem at Purdue was limited playing time. He played, but he didn’t always start, and the big man is looking for space to expand his game, alongside his intercontinental reach. That wasn’t happening the way Haarms wanted in West Lafayette.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope shouts instructions to his players in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Marriott Center in Provo, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

For some reason, Purdue coaches were surprised when he said he was leaving with another year of eligibility left. They shouldn’t have been.

He has big dreams.

If there’s a human being on the planet who can enthusiastically convince an unfulfilled quality player that there are better, bigger, brighter times ahead on the horizon, it is Mark Pope. The man can convince even the downtrodden not only that he can provide them with the time, the space, the training and the chance to make more of themselves, but that they are exactly what they hope they are — good enough to take advantage of that time and training, good enough to fill that space, good enough to make the most of their new chance.

To conquer, basically, all comers.

Today, the West Coast Conference, tomorrow, the world!

Ja. Ja. Ja.

Haarms said he meant no disrespect to Purdue, telling ESPN: “[I] just believe I needed a change of scenery to take my game to the next level. Don’t have anything but positive things to say about Purdue, but I just felt like it was time to move on.”

It was time to notice what Pope had done in his first season at BYU, with mostly the same crew the Cougars had worked with before.

“Look at coach Pope and his staff,” he said. “In the one year they’ve been there, they’ve done so many impressive things at BYU. They’re going to be in the conversation for one of the best staffs in the country. I’m in the best position to be successful. Coach Pope is an absolutely awesome guy. Other programs had more traditional success, but I can go there and be a part — a big part — of a team that wins.”

There it is, bingo, right there. Dutch dude wants to win, wants to be a big reason for that winning, and was convinced by Pope, with both his short success story and his elongated ever-enthusiastic manner, that BYU was the place to achieve all of that.

Haarms said, in addition, that he wasn’t looking now at some of the things he sought after when he was recruited by Purdue all those seasons ago. He wasn’t searching for a place where he would settle in, spending the next few years of his life there.

“It’s not even a one-year deal,” he told ESPN. “It’s eight months.”

But it’s eight important months — for Haarms to show professional scouts what he can do with his attention-getting size, what he hasn’t yet shown, and for BYU, an outfit that lost seven seniors off a 24-8 team, a program that can use, wants to use, Haarms in ways he has not been utilized in recent seasons.

Pope broke two NCAA records through the recruitment of Haarms, one for utilization of passion, eagerness and zeal in landing him, and another for describing Haarms after landing him.

“No words can express how excited we are to welcome Matt to our BYU family,” he said. “Clearly, with his size, athletic ability, versatility and skill set, he has the potential to emerge as one of the premier bigs in college basketball. His passion for the game and intensity on the court are inspiring … he is one of the most intelligent, engaging, self-aware and giving players I have ever met.”

Well. That about covers it.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.