With everything closed down in West Lafayette, Ind., due to COVID-19, there wasn’t much for Matt Haarms to do after finishing up the semester earlier this month. Haarms made waves in April when he entered the transfer portal and later picked BYU to continue his collegiate career at.
Originally from the Netherlands, the 7-foot-3 center originally considered moving to Provo once school facilities started opening up and the Cougars could start getting together. But if it came down to staying in his apartment in Indiana or staying in an apartment in Utah, Haarms decided it might be easier if he moved sooner rather than later to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
So Haarms packed up his things, left some stuff at his girlfriend’s place outside of Chicago and boarded a plane with two checked bags on May 13. Haarms moved in with recent BYU graduate Evan Troy and has been quarantining since his arrival.
His move couldn’t have worked out better. Haarms will finish his two-week quarantine on Wednesday, less than a week before BYU will start opening up its athletic facilities in a phased plan, as announced on Friday.
“I definitely did not know what I was doing, but it all worked out for me,” Haarms said. “I'm really lucky and I'm really grateful that BYU is making the choice to open up athletic facilities again. I'm really happy that the precautions are there, make sure everyone stays healthy. … It does just get me so excited to be able to finally be able to step foot in our practice facility.”
With states having different levels of precautions and the CDC still encouraging people to stay home as much possible and social distance when going out, it can be daunting to move across the country during a pandemic. But it played out pretty seamlessly.
“Even the flight was pretty easy,” Haarms said. “I had the whole row to myself, so I didn't have anybody sitting close to me. I had my mask, so I was taking the necessary precautions. I felt good. I didn't feel very scared or anything. The airport was almost empty. I expected it to be a lot more challenging, but it turned out pretty easy.”
The drive down to Provo from the Salt Lake City airport — the only type of outing he’s had since arriving in Utah — almost left him speechless.
“I bet people that live in Utah don’t appreciate it as much just driving down the highway,” Haarms said. “But just looking out the window and seeing these beautiful mountains on one side and looking out the other side and seeing this huge plain with mountains further in the background — it’s insane. For four days, every time I looked outside, I was like ‘is this even real?’ It’s beautiful. It’s an absolutely beautiful place.”
Haarms grew up in Amsterdam and moved to the United States in high school, when he went to live in Kansas. He then moved to Indiana for college, so he’s never lived anywhere with the views that northern Utah provides.
He had been to Utah once before, at 14 with his family on a trip to Zion National Park, but had never ventured to the Salt Lake City area.
Unable to leave his apartment in Provo, Haarms has had to make do with looking out his windows at the Wasatch Front, enjoying the close view of the mountains.
As far as getting acquainted with the area, Haarms had had to get creative.
Without leaving the apartment, Haarms is already getting himself familiarized with local eateries. While Troy has been helping Haarms get anything he needs, Haarms uses DoorDash to order food.
Haarms has been impressed with the different types of food he can find in Provo — more diversity of foods than he’d find in West Lafayette.
He talked to his roommate about it and learned that there is a bigger need for more ethnic food in the area because of people who serve church missions in foreign countries. When they get back, they have cravings for food found where they served.
So far, Haarms has already ordered multiple times from one of his new favorite places — Don Joaquin Street Tacos.
“In West Lafayette, it was really just a selection of, ‘You want to go to this chain spot or the other chain restaurant?’” Haarms said. “Here, it looks like there’s a lot more local spots. So, that’s really cool. It’s been cool to discover that without going in.”
With Haarms as settled as he's going to get during pandemic times, he's just ready to finish up his quarantine so he can start to meet his new teammates in person and start working out with them next month.
The day that Haarms moved, his former coach Matt Painter spoke out about the transfers leaving the Boilermaker program on The Dan Dakich Show. In short, he didn’t like it.
Had Haarms stayed, he would have fought for minutes against 6-foot-9 Trevion Williams (11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds).
“You might’ve got your degree from Purdue, but you’re not a Boilermaker if you walk out the door at the end and say, ‘Hey, I want to make the league.’ Well, guys who make the league work hard like Carsen Edwards and Caleb Swanigan,” Painter said. “I didn’t see that from [Haarms]. Did he work in practice? Sure. Did he work hard in games? Sure. Was he a good player for us? Yes. But if you take him and rank him against those guys I just mentioned, where would you rank him? So Trevion Williams beat him out and if he wants to move on, then that’s his choice.”
On his end, Haarms isn’t paying much attention to what his former coach is saying. Instead, he’s focusing on becoming a Cougar and making the best of the last season he’ll play at the collegiate level.
“I have great respect for coach Painter, but I’m moving on to BYU,” Haarms said. “I’m just happy to be here. I’m not a part of that program any more. I still have great respect for them. I spent a great time there — four years of my life were spent there. Very happy with my time there, but I’m just moving on. I’m moving on to BYU and I’m happy to be here.”