Tyler Haws will be the focal point as BYU tries to close the gap with league power Gonzaga. (Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Tyler Haws has a small confession to make. All the plaudits about his remarkable return season after two years away on a Mormon mission, the one in which he averaged 21.7 points a game for BYU, including a 42-point evisceration of Virginia Tech.
They’re maybe only 99 percent deserved, not 100. He actually did manage to sneak in a shot or two during his time in the Philippines.
“They love basketball there. There’s pretty much a hoop on every street, so we’d stop for a minute and play with them,” Haws said. “Then we have one day a week that missionaries call “preparation day,” and we’d get some guys together and play, but it wasn’t like this, it wasn’t very good ball.”
Of course, if Haws was able to light up opponents nightly with relatively little preparation coming into last season, imagine how eager BYU fans must be to see what he can do this year, when the Cougars may rely on him as heavily or more with the departure of center Brandon Davies.
Remember, Haws is entering his fifth year as a college-eligible player, and this will be the first time he’s going through a full college basketball development cycle, including time spent this month with the U.S. World University Games team in Russia. The past two years were mostly spent spreading gospel overseas, which put basketball-related development very much on the backburner. Just maintaining some semblance of fitness is about all Haws was able to manage.
"Obviously, your heart is in the missionary work, but that’s obviously in your mind that you have to stay in somewhat good shape," Haws said. "I would do stuff in the morning, jump rope or running. One of my areas had some stairs right outside my building, so I would run stairs in the morning. I tried to do as much as I could to give myself a good foundation for when I came back."
Haws may end up being one of the last BYU stars to endure this kind of stop-and-start nature to his career. A change in the rules regarding missions now gives BYU recruits the option to head out immediately out of high school and then have four consecutive years to play once they return to campus. Head coach Dave Rose estimated that about two thirds of BYU’s players have taken missions that have interrupted their basketball careers, and that ratio should go down significantly going forward, a development that should really help the program.
"I do believe overall as a whole that it really will allow us not to have so much turnover," Rose said. "You have so many years where we have two or three guys leave. We try to work to replace them, then to work guys back when they come off the mission. I don’t think we’ll have so much of that [going forward]."
This season’s Cougars, which will have to rely more heavily on its backcourt (at least early, as younger frontcourt guys develop), should also be helped by a player returning from a mission. It also could create an interesting discussion point. Kyle Collinsworth, who played a lot at forward during his freshman season in 2010-11, may find himself playing much more at the point guard spot this season, according to Rose. That’s an interesting development given the return of starting point guard Matt Carlino.
"We played [Collinsworth] by necessity more on our front line his fresh year, but I think his real future in the game is with ball in his hands," Rose said, adding that he thinks the grouping of Collinsworth, Carlino and Haws will allow the Cougars more different looks in combinations and allow them to best use the strengths of each player.
Still, Haws will be the focal point as the Cougars attempt to close the gap with league heavyweight Gonzaga, which should be very good again but not to the level it was last season, when the Bulldogs ascended to No. 1 in the nation. BYU has taken a bit of time to adjust to life in the smaller-gym West Coast Conference, but the addition of Pacific as the league’s 10th team this season should help smooth out the Cougars’ home/road travel schedules going forward.
It’s hard to be more effective in heavy minutes than Haws was last season, shooting 48/38/88 while taking over 30 percent of BYU’s shots when he was on the floor, according to KenPom.com, but Haws is game to try. And maybe having a full summer of prep to devote solely to basketball will provide that extra push that can get BYU back into league title contention and the NCAA tournament.
"I don’t know. I guess time will tell," Haws said. "I’m really looking forward to this next year. It feels good to get back to my regular routine, stuff I was doing in high school, just being able to go hard."