Win or lose, Tyler Haws takes to New York City the best the state of Utah has to offer in a basketball player.
A two-time Deseret News Mr. Basketball, Haws leads BYU to an NIT semifinal game against Baylor University on Tuesday.
Madison Square Garden should welcome a trend-breaking young man who hatched his game out of sweat, tears, blisters and simple old-fashioned attention to basic fundamentals.
That’s a rarity these days if you believe University of New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who recently told a USA Today reporter that players these days focus so much on showcasing their individual talent and athleticism that they fail to improve basic basketball skills in practice.
This is not Tyler Haws. Practice is his mantra.
There is a reason Haws ranks in the NCAA’s top 10 in scoring: that he can get off shots in traffic, that he’s figured the angles, mastered the release and repetitive shooting form, and that he rarely misses free throws and is the ultimate team player.
There’s a reason he’s led BYU to three consecutive postseason NIT wins, scoring 86 points (28.6 point average per game) by making 34 of 63 field goals for an impressive 53.9 percent accuracy.
Here’s a reference point for you. At the end of their sophomore seasons as Cougars, the two most prolific scorers in school history, Jimmer Fredette and Danny Ainge, had 536 and 498 respectively as sophomores. Heading into Monday’s game, Haws has scored 755.
The last time BYU played in MSG for the NIT championship in 1966, the Cougars averaged more than 100 points a game. College teams do not do that any more — even with the advantage of a 3-point basket.
Why? Some experts say this isn’t the same game. Shooting percentage in college is the lowest since 1965 and scoring is at the lowest since 1952. But as Eric Prisbell reported in USA Today, the talent pool appears to be better than ever.
So what gives?
Experts Prisbell talked to said the dip in points and accuracy are due to two things: A lack of fundamentals and the game has become too physical.
“The mindset growing up is a little bit different with what they do in the summer versus 25 years ago when a lot more kids were staying at home and working on their games with high school coaches and teammates,” said Alford.
“Now kids are traveling all over the place playing three games a day and they do that for three days, go home for two and then do it all over again in a different city across the country.”
This time last year, Haws was in the Philippines preaching and teaching as a full-time Mormon missionary. He stepped back from the game for two years.
Likely due to his unique work ethic and sound fundamentals forged through more than a decade of work on the court, Haws returned with his game intact, as ready as anyone who’d been through the missionary experience.
Haws learned a long, long time ago a very valuable lesson about himself and the game: There are no shortcuts.
As a third-grader, Haws was devastated when he got cut from a youth basketball team. As his father, former BYU guard Marty Haws, tried to console his son, he hatched out a game plan that the young kid would work harder than anyone around and establish a game that more talented players may not own.
He worked. Few people know how hard he got after it, how many hours he put in away from the crowds, bands, cheerleaders and fans. It worked.
An inspiring video titled “A Work in Progress,” found on the Internet site LDS.org, chronicles this odyssey by young Tyler. His father took him to a church gymnasium at 6 a.m. every morning before school where the son would work his butt off.
After making tens of thousands of shots from all kinds of angles, after days when Tyler hit more than 100 free throws without a miss, the player that once got cut became one of the best high school players in the history of local basketball, leading Lone Peak High to championships and now the Cougars to New York after leading the WCC in scoring this past season.
And yes, Haws has been the victim of physical play, a trend that concerns many in the NCAA.
While Haws is a standout example of a player working on fundamentals and taking and making the time to become a better player, he has overshadowed faster, quicker, more athletic stars who’ve made names for themselves with golden individual highlight plays.
It isn’t just Tyler Haws.
Utah has long impressed basketball gurus from around the country for producing outstanding AAU basketball teams on display at national tournaments. People comment on how fun it is to watch Utah teams play; that it’s a team thing. And they are good.
Lone Peak, Haws’ alma mater, was recently crowned high school national champion by a vote of several media polls. During the year, the Knights put on clinics of fundamental basketball. On display were the very reasons college teams scored more than 100 points a game 45 years ago.
Youths from our state know the value of five-on-five instead of one on five or one-on-one. They share the ball, play defense, perfect the art of the pass and run things off set schemes, utilizing picks and screens and shooting with proper form because they can’t always score off the dribble.
It stands out. And Haws is the poster boy for that kind of play and coaching in the Beehive State.
New York City and the legendary Gaawwwdin, meet Mr. Tyler Haws.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].