Back from mission, Tyler Haws is the same player but a new man

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BROOKLYN – Back in October, a significant change was announced by Thomas S. Monson, the current President of the LDS Church. Instead of requiring young men to wait until they are 19 years old to be able to go on their two-year missions, the rule change now allows high school graduates to leave after their 18th birthday if they have already gotten their diploma. This change was huge news in college athletics for schools like BYU, Utah and Utah State. Now, instead of Mormon athletes having to spend their freshman season on campus before leaving for two years, these kids can serve for two years before arriving on campus and then spend four or five consecutive seasons with their team.

It’s a rule that Tyler Haws wishes he could have taken advantage of.

“I would have gone straight out, for sure,” Haws, BYU’s sophomore shooting guard, said. “I think that’s the easiest thing to do, get out and come back and have four years.”

Haws should be a senior right now. You want an idea of how long it has been since Haws last played for the Cougars? When he was a freshman, Haws teamed up with Jimmer Fredette, who had yet to become a national sensation and whose name hadn’t become verbiage meaning sinking 32-foot threes. Brandon Davies is no longer a random freshman, instead he’s 20 months removed from one of the more embarrassing and polarizing suspensions in recent memory. Brock Zylstra and Davies are the only players still on the roster from Haws’ freshman year. Perhaps most significantly, however, BYU is no longer in the same conference as Utah. The Utes moved on to the Pac-12 while the Cougars now share conference membership with the likes of Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

Haws averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 boards as a freshman, but after one year on campus, he made the decision to serve his mission, putting a very promising basketball career on hold. Haws expected to be sent to Europe — he was born in Belgium and still has family on that side of the pond — but was instead shipped off to the Philippines.

It was a speed bump, but it was one that Haws had been looking forward to.

“It’s something I was definitely planning on my whole life, since I was a little kid,” Haws said. “It feels good to be back and playing again, but [serving my mission] was the best experience of my whole life.”

Haws will always wonder whether or not his presence on BYU’s roster in 2010-2011, the year The Jimmer led BYU to the Sweet 16, could have helped them get past Florida. That’s something that’s never going to go away. But Haws is devout. He’s loyal to his faith, and he believes that there he’s more than simply a basketball player. He realizes that there is more to life than being really good at making a ball go through a metal ring. Missing out on BYU’s dream season will sting, and that’s never going to go away, but neither will the lessons he learned and the experiences he had when he served.

“I feel like the experience that I gained on my mission can’t be gained any other way,” he said. “I feel like stepping away from the game for two years can really help you. I feel like I grew up as a person and as a leader.”

“We have a prophet in the Mormon faith, and he’s given a commandment to serve a mission. … We believe that commandment comes from God, and we feel like it’s really important. And I felt like it was something that I needed to do.”

In talking to Haws, that doesn’t feel like lip service either. He comes across as genuine, honest and open, and one can only wonder how much of that is a result of spending two years helping people in a third-world country.

Now that he’s back at BYU, Haws’ focus has returned to the hardwood, but it wasn’t an easy transition going from being a missionary to an elite level athlete. Living in Quezon City, outside of Manila, Haws’ days were strenuous, organized and long. Six days a week, he was up by 6:30 a.m., spending as many as 15 hours-a-day studying scripture and spreading the gospel of the LDS Church. He wasn’t there to train; he barely had time to check his email or do his laundry.

Playing basketball once a week, at the most, against Philippinos, who aren’t exactly known for their height, took a toll on Haws’ physical condition. He lost 10 pounds, he couldn’t run as far or as fast, he couldn’t jump as high. That silky-smooth jumper he was known for took some work before it stopped looking like a Reggie Evans free throw. “I tried to take it one step at a time when I got back,” he said. “I tried to get my strength back, my body back. I feel really comfortable right now.”

It took a lot of time and even more hard work, but Haws appears to be rounding back into game shape. In two games at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last week, Haws averaged 22.0 points, 8.5 boards, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals. On the season, those numbers are 22.0 points, 7.0 boards and 3.8 assists while shooting 49.3% from the field and 35.7% from three.

He’s the perfect wing compliment to Davies in the paint and Matt Carlino at the point. If he can continue to play at this level, he gives BYU a chance to compete for the WCC crown and earn an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.

And rest assured, that’s something that Haws will work his tail off to achieve, because finding success on the court still matters to him.

But it’s no longer the most important part of Haws’ life.

“It’s changed my perspective on life,” he said. “I went to a third-world country. All I did is just serve and help people all day. I got to see how people lived and how the gospel of Jesus Christ can help others.”

“It changed me forever.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.