PROVO — Just a few weeks after returning home from an LDS mission in July 1987, Marty Haws started playing basketball at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston.
"I was thrown right into high-level competition," the former BYU guard recalled about that summer.
Haws' experience helped shape the way his son, Tyler — who is now the Cougars' leading scorer — handled the transition from missionary to basketball player.
Tyler's post-mission approach was very different from his dad's. Marty advised his son to be patient and gradually ease back into the sport rather than immerse himself in game situations right away.
And the results have been better than expected. "I think we're all pleasantly surprised," said Marty.
Tyler, a sophomore guard who returned from the Philippines last April, averages 21.6 points per game and has scored at least 20 points in 14 of 20 contests this season. He has scored 20-plus points in seven consecutive games and has scored in double figures in 19 of 20 games.
Already, Haws has recorded 828 career points and needs just 172 to join BYU's 1,000-point club. The Cougars' all-time leading scorer, Jimmer Fredette, scored 780 points after two full seasons at BYU.
Yes, Haws, who leads the Cougars against No. 10 Gonzaga on Thursday, has performed after a two-year layoff in a way that defies conventional wisdom.
"You want people to know that you can go on a mission, and come back and be as good or better," Marty said. "That's what we believe Tyler's done."
So what's been the secret of his success?
It began with Tyler's decision to leave on his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints right after his freshman year. One month after BYU ended the 2009-10 season with a loss to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament, Haws entered the Missionary Training Center — one day after taking his last final exam.
"We couldn't have cut it any closer," said Marty. "It was by design, to get him out there as soon as possible and get as much time as we can on the back end. There was a little bit of stress to endure finishing up with finals. But I think it's paid dividends on the back end."
By the time Tyler returned home last spring, instead of playing pickup games, he eased gradually into basketball by doing shooting and dribbling drills he had done since he was a kid. He also gained his strength back by lifting weights. Then he rested his body when needed.
"I wanted to take it one step at a time, not do too much too soon," Tyler said. "I worked hard in the summer to get my legs back. The coaches and I mapped out a plan that I wasn't going to do anything for a couple of months as far as pickup games. I'm glad I did."
"It's something the coaches and I had talked about long before Tyler got home," Marty said. "We decided to take it a little slower. It gave Tyler and I a chance to work together.
"Then when he went to Provo, the coaches jumped in. We made a conscious decision to not jump right into games. He didn't need to be ready for the season in May or June. He had to be ready in October. We kind of built up to it. By October, he was really comfortable."
Before the season began, BYU head coach Dave Rose said Tyler had "worked as hard as anybody we've had as far as returning from a mission to get himself in shape."
Then Haws started the year with six straight games scoring at least 20 points. He's been a consistent scorer all season.
Rose has never had a returned missionary play so well so soon after a mission.
"To be as effective as he's been with his scoring, he's gotten off to a much better start after his mission, after not playing for two years, than he did actually coming out of high school, which is kind of unique," Rose said of Haws.
On Dec. 29, Haws poured in a career-high 42 points against Virginia Tech, tying Fredette for the eighth-best single-game scoring performance in school history.
"The thing that Tyler does really well is he scores in different ways," Marty said.
In that win, Tyler surpassed his dad's top-scoring game — 40 points — which Marty achieved in 1989.
"Of course, any dad would want their son to break any record they had," Marty said. "I don't think Tyler knew about it. I think he found out after the game that I had scored 40 in a game. When they told him after, I know he got a big smile on his face. He's had a lot of fun with it since then. It's a great accomplishment."
Last week, Tyler hit a tough fadeaway shot with 2.5 seconds remaining against Saint Mary's that gave the Cougars a two-point lead. But BYU ended up losing, 70-69.
Haws scored 23 points against the Gaels, then poured in 25 more last Saturday against San Diego.
Will Haws' mission comeback be a pattern for future returned missionaries to follow?
"In some ways, I think it will serve as some sort of a blueprint," Marty said. "Everybody is trying to figure out if there is a best way to do that. I think for everybody it will be different.
"A lot has been made of the way he went about it. But a lot of it is attributed to Tyler, and the fact he's a good player. It's been fun to watch him be needed and for him to step up and be able to do the things we've watched him do for a long time."
Haws at a glance
Height/weight: 6-5, 200
High school: Lone Peak
Entering Monday's games, Haws was No. 7 in the nation in scoring, averaging 21.6 points per game17 comments on this story
Entering Monday's games, Haws was No. 8 in the nation in free throw shooting at 91.9 percent (102-of-111)
Scored 20-plus points in 14 of 20 games this season and has scored in double figures in 19 of 20 games
Scored a career-high 42 points against Virginia Tech in December, including 29 in the first half
Averages a team-high 33 minutes per game
Shoots 48.6 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range
No. 2 on the team in rebounds (101, 5.1 rpg) and No. 2 in steals (27).