HIGHLAND — Lone Peak’s TJ Haws donned the No. 11 jersey throughout his career, but the number that best defines that career? That would be the number four.
Four times a starter for the Lone Peak varsity team. Four times named an all-state performer. And most importantly, four straight 5A state championships.
Phenomenal accomplishments that are truly unprecedented in the annals of Utah prep basketball.
“There’s no doubt that he’s the most successful basketball player in Utah prep history,” assessed Lone Peak Coach Quincy Lewis.
As far as being the best player in Utah prep history? Lewis believes Haws is in the discussion.
“There’s been some great ones like Devin Durrant, Danny Vranes, Brett Vroman, Britton Johnsen, and some others, but he’s there with them," Lewis said. "As far as the most successful player in Utah prep history, though? There’s no question. It’s TJ Haws.”
Haws recently polished off his extraordinary prep career with an 84-66 5A championship win over Pleasant Grove at the Huntsman Center. As he left the prep hardwood for the last time, he proudly extended four fingers high in the air before celebrating with his teammates on the bench.
Haws finished with 29 points in a game that served as a sort of microcosm for his entire four-year stint at Lone Peak. Much like he did throughout his career, Haws alternately took on the role of jump-starter, facilitator and first-scoring option against the Vikings.
The early stages saw Haws jump-start his team with a 3-point bucket and midrange jump shot to secure a 5-2 lead. It was the type of instant impact he provided throughout his freshman year.
The original plan for Haws that first year was not to place too much on him in the wake of his brother Tyler Haws' exceptional career. Tyler had just graduated with two Deseret News Mr. Basketball awards, two 5A state championships and 1,772 career points notched on his belt in what may have been the most successful prep career up to that point.
“Based on what his brother had done, I didn’t want him to feel the weight of those expectations,” Lewis recalled. “I wanted him to grow into who he was going to be, but he grew pretty fast. We came to realize pretty quickly that he was just ready. He was ready from that first game on.”
TJ's first game was against West at Utah Valley University's arena, and like Tyler, he received a starting assignment out of the gate.
TJ admits to being a bit antsy for his varsity debut.
"I was super nervous — more nervous than I thought I'd be," he said. "I remember taking my first shot. It was a 3-pointer and I banked it in because I think I just had a lot of nerves. It got better after that."
Much better, as it were.
TJ finished with 14 points against West and continued to play a big role throughout his freshman year. He averaged 13.8 points as a freshman — good for second on the team to then-sophomore sensation Nick Emery. He was also named as a second-team all-state performer.
TJ capped off that first season with a great performance in the 5A state tournament including a clutch performance in the semifinal game versus Fremont. In that game he played a central role in Lone Peak coming back from a 15-point deficit in the second half to advance to the state championship game where it defeated American Fork.
“I learned early on that I liked playing on the big stage,” TJ said.
TJ went on to raise all his numbers his sophomore year which culminated into yet another 5A state championship. He averaged 17.4 points, captured first-team all-state honors on top of 5A state tournament MVP honors.
His junior year saw him embrace the role of facilitator, much like he did in the second quarter of his final game against Pleasant Grove. Zach Frampton torched the Vikings in that second quarter for 21 points with TJ gladly yielding the scoring spotlight.
TJ raised his assist average as a junior to almost three more per game — averaging 4.92 for a team most consider the best ever produced by the state. Despite raising his assist average, his scoring average stayed steady at 17.1.
"That was obviously an incredible year," TJ said. "We did some great things and really played like a team. One night it was Nick (Emery), the other night it would be Eric (Mika) and some nights it was me leading the scoring, but it was all about winning for us."
The Knights lost just one game that year to Monteverde Academy (Fla.) before romping through in-state competition to yet another 5A State Championship.
Entering his senior season, TJ took over the primary scoring reigns, just like he did in the second half in his final game against Pleasant Grove. In that game he proved unconscious — shooting 8-14 from behind the arc while doing most of that work in a key third-quarter stretch that all but buried the Vikings.
That final game, and the entire season, almost didn't happen. With three state championships already under his bet, and a huge desire to play at least one season with his brother Tyler at BYU, TJ looked seriously at the option of forgoing his senior season in favor of playing for the Cougars.
"It was a very real thing and something I thought hard about," he confirmed.
What brought him back was the number four. The opportunity to help make history with an unprecedented four state championships in a row played a big role in bringing him back.
“It was a new challenge, and I was excited about that challenge,” he said. “Sure, I knew I was going to miss Nick and Eric, but there were great guys like Zach Frampton coming back, so I looked forward to going into a new season with a new challenge.”
The big challenge involved him having the spotlight shined squarely on him instead of sharing that spotlight with star teammates.
“It was his chance to be away from Nick (Emery), Eric (Mika) and Talon (Shumway) and stand on his own two feet," Lewis said. "You look back and it turned out to be a great decision because that’s exactly what happened. He rose to the challenge and really defined himself as the most successful player in Utah prep history.”
It took TJ a while to completely embrace his new role according to Lewis, but like he did with everything else he rose to both accept it and then thrive with it. He finished his final season raising his scoring average to 25.2 ponts per game, as well as his assist average to 5.2.
Throughout the year TJ not only embraced his role as the primary scoring option, but continued to adjust his play on almost a game-by-game basis according to what was thrown at him defensively.
“That’s what’s remarkable about TJ and what really sets him apart,” Lewis said. “His ability to adjust his game for every defense thrown at him — and believe me when I say he saw everything kind of defense imaginable thrown at him — but his ability to adjust his game to every situation is truly exceptional.”
All in all TJ finished his career as the 12th leading scorer in Utah prep history with 1,896 total points. As remarkable as that feat is, it's made even more so when considering his varying roles within his own team.
"To put up the points he did when considering who he was playing with all four years is truly exceptional," Lewis said. "He could have played just about anywhere and scored at least 23 per game all four years, but that wasn't the case here."
TJ wouldn't have had it any other way.
“It’s never been about individual honors,” he said. “It’s much more celebrating with your team about something you did together. It’s why we play. It’s why I play. Basketball is about the team and winning it together and we’ve all had that attitude. It’s a big reason why we’ve been so successful here.”
As for his own success, TJ is quick to credit Lewis for a lot of it.
“I don’t think there’s a coach who puts in more time preparing than coach Lewis,” he said. “His practices are very hard, and he’s very demanding of us, but I wouldn’t have wanted to play for anyone else.”
It also helped tremendously having big brother pave the way.
"Growing up I saw how hard Tyler worked and then the success he had by putting in the work," TJ said. "I knew by watching him that it was possible to start right away for Lone Peak and everything else. I don't know if I'd be the player I am today without Tyler showing me how it's done."
The next step for TJ is a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to France, which he'll leave for in April. Upon his return he'll again attempt to follow in Tyler's footsteps playing for BYU.
Considering how he followed up Tyler at Lone Peak, he should thrive playing for the Cougars.
"Their games are completely different, but their mental approach isn't and that's what sets them apart as much as anything," Lewis said. "You put those guys in any environment and they just don’t get rattled. They’re big in the clutch and it’s definitely how they’re most similar. I fully expect TJ to do similar things for BYU that Tyler is doing now."
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