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.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.