He’s traveled from his native Netherlands to Purdue and now he’s in Provo. After spending the past few months with the BYU basketball program, Matt Haarms is settling in with the Cougars.
The 7-foot-3 grad transfer is thrilled to be part of coach Mark Pope’s team.
“I’ve never been happier with my decision. Every single day I feel better about it,” Haarms said. “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.”
BYU began official practices last week and is scheduled to tip off the 2020-21 season at the end of November.
Pope is happy to have Haarms on the roster.
“He’s awesome. He’s doing great and he likes it here. His life right now is school and basketball. It gets pretty simple for these guys that are really committed to the game.” — Mark Pope on Matt Haarms
“He’s awesome. He’s doing great and he likes it here. His life right now is school and basketball. It gets pretty simple for these guys that are really committed to the game,” he said. “They come to practice at 5:30 in the morning, then finish practice and go to class and then come back for practice at 2 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the day. Then they try to study a little bit before they fall asleep.”
Haarms, who chose BYU over programs like Kentucky and Texas Tech last spring, is an elite rim-protector. He finished No. 4 in school history with 210 blocks during his three seasons at Purdue. As a junior last year, Haarms averaged 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Monday, ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello placed Haarms at No. 42 on his list of 80 Newcomer Impact Rankings.
“We have really interesting length. This Matt Haarms has been really good for us. You’ve got a chance to see him shoot the ball,” Pope said after the first day of practice. “He’s been shooting the ball like that every day. It’s really hard because us mere mortals have a tough time challenging his stroke; he just shoots it so high. He was really good on the offensive glass tonight and he’ll continue to be. He’s been really good in the post for us.”
While Haarms is a force inside, he’s also a threat from outside. Last year at Purdue, he shot 10 of 32 from 3-point range.
What was Haarms’ assessment of the first day of practice?
“It was absolutely phenomenal. It feels good after a summer of a lot of struggle and shutting down and starting back up, to come out here and have a date, Nov. 25, it was great to have a concrete goal,” he said. “During the summer, we had to keep the mentality that no matter what happens, we’re going to get better every single day. It feels like we’re working toward a goal. We’re happy to be out there with the guys.”
No doubt, Haarms’ large presence will change the way BYU plays this season.
“He’s a real problem (for opponents) in the post. We might not be a steady diet with him having back-to-the-basket catches, but it might be a lot of post-ups that come off a roll or off of a cut or in transition, where things are more fluid,” Pope said. “I trust his stroke, I trust his decision-making on the perimeter. I think he’s going to continue to grow into a really solid passer on the perimeter.
“Defensively, he has a high acumen as a rim-protector already. His feet are pretty good. We’re fiddling around with putting him in some different rotations and different zones,” Pope continued. “His length is a problem. He can make up for a lot of mistakes. There are a lot of open guys that you just can’t get the ball to because of his length. He’s our team leader in deflections in practices, which is pretty extraordinary, coming from your center or power forward, which is usually not the case.”
BYU forward Gavin Baxter has been playing and working out with Haarms since last June.
“My first impression was, ‘Wow, that guy is tall.’ He’s a legit 7-foot-3,” the 6-9 Baxter said last summer. “To have his size and coordination is huge for us. He’ll change the game 100%. It’s going to make it easy for me, at least, because everybody’s going to run to him and then he’s just going to lob it to me and I’m going to dunk it. It’s going to be great for me.”
Before coming to BYU, Haarms starred at Purdue. Boilermaker fans were supportive of him when he decided to transfer.
“They all understand my decision and they respect it,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people here in West Lafayette thanking me for the time I spent here. They’re happy that I made a good decision for myself.”
When Haarms told Pope that he was transferring to BYU last spring, what was Pope’s reaction?
“It was funny. He was just getting in his car. He was going crazy,” Haarms said. “It was cool to see that excitement. He was out of control. That’s the kind of excitement we’re going to see when we win some big games this year. I’m enamored with his energy.”