Provo • When Purdue center Matt Haarms entered the transfer portal on April 6, he did so with the intent of finding a place where he could earn more minutes for his final year of college eligibility. Specifically, he wanted a bigger opportunity to be a bigger part of a winning team.
He wanted to expand his horizons. He'd consider any school that would reach out to him.
Ultimately, Haarms chose BYU because there was “never any doubt” with the Cougars.
“That’s the reason I ended up picking them,” Haarms said. “They were the school that provided me the least doubt. Every time I talked to them, I was just happy that I was on the phone. There was never anything on my mind, like ‘what if this happens?’ It was always just a really positive experience talking to them. In the end, it just became a clear choice that they were the right choice because I never felt like it was anything to worry about.”
BYU assistant coach Nick Robinson keeps an eye on the portal daily and the moment he saw Haarms entered it, sent out a text to the 7-foot-3 Purdue transfer to see if he’d be interested in learning more about the BYU program. He did.
So, during the staff’s Zoom meeting the next morning, he informed his colleagues about Haarms’ interest.
“I couldn’t believe it,” coach Mark Pope said. “I was so excited. And clearly, his list was everybody in the country from the get-go. You just don’t find players who are his size and skill set, with his experience and maturity, very often. So, we jumped on a Zoom call with him and we took our best shot at him.”
Well, whatever Robinson said in his initial text and whatever went on in that Zoom call with Pope and the rest of the staff surprised no one more than Haarms himself. He was immediately impressed.
Haarms also said, the second BYU reached out, his first thoughts of the Cougars were of the phenomenal season they had just had. The Dutch center believed BYU was destined to make a big run in the NCAA Tournament (had it not been canceled due to COVID-19, obviously).
“So that was really impressive to me — it’s the one thing that immediately sprung to mind,” Haarms said. “And then to see the kind of energy they were having and the fun they were having, to see how fun of a team it was outside of being a really successful winning team. They were doing it in a way that everyone has a good time doing it and I always feel that that’s important for a winning team — that everyone’s having fun while winning.”
MATT HAARMS AT A GLANCE
Vitals • 7-foot-3, 250 pounds, senior
Hometown • Amsterdam, Netherlands
College • Played three seasons at Purdue, where he became the tallest player in school history. ... Sixth international player to play for Purdue since 1951-52 season.
High school • Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas)
Family • Son of Peter Haarms and Martine Van Hoorn
Of Note • Started playing basketball at age 11. ... left the Netherlands prior to his junior year to spend a year in Spain to strengthen his game. ... He was offered a professional contract in Spain, but declined the invitation and instead moved to the United States.
As the BYU athletic department knows too well, it can be a bit of a challenge to recruit athletes to Provo. The school, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a strict Honor Code.
However, that never turned off Haarms. If anything, he sees it as a benefit as an athlete.
Plus, his immediate connection with the coaches was too strong for it to even deter him.
“As a professional athlete, looking at the Honor Code, it’s pretty smart to be adhering to a lot of those [rules],” Haarms said. “Even if you don’t go to BYU, it’s probably smart to live by a lot of those rules, so it never really became a problem for me. Just looking at the school, looking at how good affiliated it was, meeting the coaches — there was really never any doubt. That was why I ended up picking them — they were the school that provided me with the least doubt.”
While Utah and other states starting to reopen in May, it is still uncertain when schools will allow students back. So, Haarms said he's just waiting for the go-ahead from Pope to make the move to Provo.
Until then, he will continue to do his best to stay in shape (although he's struggled to find a gym). But he is very much looking forward to getting together with his new teammates as soon as possible to start working on the next season.
Since announcing his commitment to BYU, Haarms has already been in contact with some of the Cougar players through texts or calls.
“So, it's really cool to see them all involved, really cool and really excited to get to work,” Haarms said. “I really can't wait to get to Provo and really meet them for the first time.”
The Cougars are going to have to readjust from losing seven seniors to graduation, five of whom scored more than 80% of the team’s points. But the squad is also getting bigger.
Besides the addition of Haarms, who's looking to be the first 7-footer to play for BYU since Dan Howard appeared in 63 games in 1999-2003, the Cougars will also have 6-foot-11 Richard Harward, 6-foot-10 Wyatt Lowell, 6-foot-9 Gavin Baxter and 6-foot-9 Kolby Lee.
That’s quite a growth spurt for BYU’s front court.
Harward and Lowell came in last season from Utah Valley, but were forced to redshirt due to transfer rules. Baxter made his return late in the season after suffering a torn labrum and undergoing surgery before the season even started.
Lee was a regular starter for the Cougars, starting in 28 of 30 games played. The forward averaged 7.0 points on 62.5% shooting from the field, 50% from beyond the arc and 71.1% from the free throw line.
There's no doubt the Cougars will have a different look from the previous season. And Haarms is excited to be part of that change.
“I wouldn't call it a real rebuild,” Haarms said. “It's probably just a retool. A lot of those guys were around the program last year. With how successful they were, they went through that success, they're still a couple of very valuable pieces that contribute to that team. They have that experience.”
Haarms also comes with plenty of experience himself, having played a total of seven NCAA Tournament games during his time at Purdue.
At the moment, Haarms will be one of two seniors on BYU's roster, joining Alex Barcello. The Purdue transfer hopes to use his experience to help his new teammates.
“Every year there was a Tournament, I made it to the Sweet 16 or further,” Haarms said. “So, I’m a guy that has an expectation of excellence from these guys. I’m going to come in, work as hard as I can and hopefully inspire them to work just as hard. I’ve been there. And I really want to get back to it. And those guys are going to have a hunger to get there for the first time and hopefully lead them in that and help them in the pursuit of it.”
Pope is just excited to see how Haarms integrates with the rest of the team, and the fans.
“I had seen him play before and the thing that stuck out to me was the passion he plays with on the floor,” Pope said. “I can’t wait for BYU fans to enjoy this gentleman because he plays so hard, so passionate and he’s so demonstrative. And I actually don’t want to slow that down — I want to increase it.”