During the pandemic, when recruits weren’t allowed to make campus visits, some committed to schools they had never visited before.
Basketball grad transfers like Matt Haarms and Te’Jon Lucas, for example, took a leap of faith when they signed with BYU and coach Mark Pope. Neither knew much about the school before the recruiting process.
Cougar assistant coach Cody Fueger admires the resolve of Haarms and Lucas, who learned as much as they could about BYU’s honor code, and its culture, before arriving on campus. They entrusted their respective futures with the coaching staff.
“It’s interesting because you hear all different stuff about Utah. What a great place it is. People that live here love Utah. We kind of have to share those experiences,” Fueger said. “We talk about Donovan Mitchell and what the Jazz have going on. We talk about what makes this a special place, like the mountains.
“It is a leap of faith for these guys. They have to believe us and understand what’s going on. For Te’Jon, he was like, ‘I’ll live wherever because this is a huge basketball decision for me.’ He wants to get better. That’s his whole thing. He wants to work on his skill development, get his body exactly right with our strength coach.
“All that stuff is really important for him,” he continued. “He (had) never been to Utah. It’s interesting for him. We talked about Utah and every part of it, the good stuff and the bad stuff.”
Lucas, a point guard, joined the Cougars in June after a career at Illinois and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While Lucas was being recruited last spring, he consulted with Haarms about Haarms’ one season in Provo.
“Me and Matt Haarms definitely talked before I made my decision. I got to pick his brain a little bit. I talked to (former BYU guard) Brandon Averette,” Lucas said. “I grew up in the Midwest. It’s a different change for me. I know about the (BYU) honor code and the Mormons. I‘m trying to become more aware of my surroundings. I’m not educated on a lot of that stuff.
“Milwaukee’s very segregated. I wanted to make sure I know the ins-and-outs of the situation and make sure it’s the right fit. I love what I heard. … I’m grateful for Matt and Brandon for giving me tips.”
Fueger has encouraged recruits considering BYU to talk to Haarms, Averette and Alex Barcello about their experiences here.
“Those guys love Utah. Matt said this is the most fun he had playing basketball. He loved BYU,” Fueger said. “It’s something that we encourage them to talk to those guys. They enjoyed their time here. Matt loved every second of it. He loved his teammates. When he saw that we landed Te’Jon, he was one of the first texts I got congratulating us.”
From the time he signed with BYU after three years at Purdue, Haarms has praised the coaching staff and the atmosphere.
“I’ve never been happier with my decision. Every single day I feel better about it,” the 7-foot-3 center said weeks before the season tipped off. “Since I stepped on campus, there hasn’t been a single moment, a single day, of doubt. Every day, I learn to trust the coaches more. I’m learning every single day.”
Near the end of the season, Haarms, who earned West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors, said he appreciated the support of the fans, despite the limited capacity of the Marriott Center due to the pandemic.
“It’s been awesome to see the support, not just in person on campus but on social media,” Haarms said. “Of course, I wish it were a ‘normal’ experience but it’s still been really special. This is a year that I’m going to look back on for the rest of my life as being really special.”
For Lucas, he’s focused on improving his basketball skills and helping the Cougars return to the NCAA Tournament.
“I tell people all the time that it’s six to eight months that I’ll be there. I’m coming there to get better as a player, get better as a person and help this team win a conference championship and survive in the tournament,” Lucas said. “I’m only there for six to eight months. It’s not like I have to spend five years here. It’s not that big of a deal. I want to meet the fans and be able to make a mark while I’m there for those six to eight months.”
At a place like BYU, which has an honor code, the coaching staff can narrow down the pool of potential recruits when they wade into the transfer portal.
“We can know within the first phone call or two, for sure, if it’s a good fit,” Fueger said. “It’s one of the first things we bring up — we talk about what BYU is and the honor code and all the great things it has to offer. We talk about that right away because we don’t want to go 10 calls down the line and find out that they’re not a fit. We start out with what makes BYU so great.”