PROVO — BYU’s all-time leading scorer, Tyler Haws, remembers playing basketball as a sixth-grader during recess and his little brother, TJ, more than four years younger and at least half Tyler’s size, showing up to join them.
Decked out in Michael Jordan gear and sporting a red bowl haircut, TJ would launch deep shots every time he touched the ball.
“I’m on fire today, guys!” TJ Haws would declare. “Don’t leave me open!”
Fearless, TJ Haws felt like he belonged on the court with the older kids.
“At times, it kind of got annoying because he wasn’t shying away from anybody,” Tyler recalled during a phone interview from Spain, where he is playing professionally. “He’s been that way for the longest time. He has this big self-confidence.”
While Tyler would go on to make an indelible mark on BYU basketball, TJ has done the same, in his own way. TJ Haws’ story is a bit more complicated. Not many Cougar basketball players have arrived on campus with higher expectations placed on him than Tyson Jay Haws.
His older brother preceded him and became the most prolific scorer in school history. His father, Marty Haws, starred at BYU in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
If that weren’t enough, TJ Haws was part of the much-hyped “Lone Peak 3,” a group of players that was supposed to take a BYU program that had never reached the Final Four to new heights.
Four years after TJ Haws started his career, he’s the last of the star-crossed “Lone Peak 3” still standing.
Who would have guessed that Haws — who committed to BYU before his sophomore year of high school way back in 2011 — still hasn’t played a game in the NCAA Tournament?
That’s a void that he fully intends to fill this season. Haws, who’s always been a fiery competitor, believed it could happen before the season, when few people thought it was possible after the team suffered through an offseason of adversity.
As a senior, under the direction of a new coaching staff, Haws has helped the No. 23-ranked Cougars (21-7) earn their first national ranking in nine years and he’s looking to lead BYU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
But during his time in the program, he has endured numerous twists and turns.
“It’s been a lot of changes. I’ve had a lot of different coaches, a lot of different teammates,” Haws said. “It hasn’t gone in any way that I would have expected. But I’ve learned so much. In life, you have things thrown at you. You have to learn to adapt and keep moving and do your best every day. I feel like I’ve done that with all the different changes.”
While some might judge Haws by what he hasn’t accomplished, he’s silenced critics this season, leaving a lasting impression with a series of signature moments.
In November, he made a buzzer-beating jumper at Houston. In February, he buried a long-range 3-pointer to vanquish Saint Mary’s with nine seconds remaining (and hours before the birth of his first child). And last Saturday, his alley-oop pass to Yoeli Childs with 11.1 seconds left lifted the Cougars to a dramatic 72-71 road victory over San Diego. Those plays will live on in BYU basketball lore.
Along the way, Haws has been quietly moving up the career charts, ranking in the top 10 all time in several categories — eighth in scoring (1,842 points), third in 3-point field goals made (239), third in assists (569), eighth in steals (152) and ninth in free-throw percentage (82.1%).
And he’s become BYU’s ironman, having started every game in his career (129), setting the school record for most consecutive starts. He’s been a model of longevity and persistence.
“He’s a really special player and he’s obviously trying to put the finishing touches in a spectacular way on a really special BYU career,” said coach Mark Pope.
Many regard TJ Haws as one of the best players in school history.
“He’s overcome a lot. For him to be as resilient as he has been and to perform as consistently as he has amidst all of that speaks even more to what he’s done at BYU,” said former Cougar and current BYU Radio analyst Mark Durrant. “He’ll be looked on as one of the greats.”
On Saturday, when BYU hosts No. 2 Gonzaga, on Senior Night, Haws will be honored along with six other seniors and BYU fans sitting in a sold-out Marriott Center will roar, letting him know how they feel about him.
That “Lone Peak 3” moniker may have seemed like a curse. But Haws has moved past that, winning games and achieving milestones. All that matters to him now is chasing the one thing that has eluded him — a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
‘Lone Peak 3’ minus 2
At Lone Peak High in Highland, TJ Haws, Eric Mika and Nick Emery led the Knights to state championships and a 2013 MaxPreps.com national title. They dominated teams all across the country. Each of the trio signed with then-BYU coach Dave Rose and the Cougars, and many projected that same success would follow them on the college level.
All three were rated as top 100 recruits by ESPN — Mika (28), Emery (45) and Haws (51).
Haws, Mika and Emery were dubbed the “Lone Peak 3” and BYU fans couldn’t wait to see what they could accomplish after all three served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“People mentioned multiple Sweet 16s,” said former Cougar guard Jonathan Tavernari. “Multiple Final Four appearances by the Lone Peak 3. That never happened.”
As it turned out, Mika, Emery and Haws only played one season together — the 2016-17 campaign. The Cougars finished with a 22-12 record and bowed out meekly in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
A little more than one week later, Mika declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore season. He wasn’t drafted and he went on to play in Europe. Since then, he’s played in one NBA game, making his NBA debut with the Sacramento Kings earlier this month.
In the fall of 2017, Emery left the team while he dealt with personal issues. He was under NCAA investigation for receiving impermissible benefits that ultimately resulted in BYU vacating 47 wins. Emery returned for the 2018-19 season before retiring last summer with one year of eligibility remaining.
That left Haws carrying the “Lone Peak 3” banner by himself.
“TJ was affected by it. He’s the only one of the so-called ‘Lone Peak 3’ that stayed and people still expected great things out of the team,” Tavernari said. “But there’s no way that TJ could do it alone. That’s why I’ve always defended TJ. And I’ll always defend him because he stayed, he fought through injury against top-level competition. It’s unreal.”
Those closest to Haws don’t think it’s fair that so many high expectations were heaped upon the trio.
“They never branded themselves the ‘LP3.’ Whatever came, fairly or unfairly, with that, it was just three players that wanted to continue to play together,” said Marty Haws. “Whatever expectations that they were saddled with, that wasn’t them saying that they were going to set the world on fire.”
Instead, that “Lone Peak 3” moniker crashed and burned.
“That’s definitely been hard for Teej. Those were his guys growing up,” Tyler Haws said. “He played with Eric and Nick since he was 8 years old and traveled all over the place with them, playing games. I’m sure it’s been a little bit frightening at times. ‘My guys are leaving and I’m left here alone.’ But he’s done a good job of playing in the present and being a good teammate. He’s been a good friend to Nick, who’s been through a bunch of challenging times. He’s really happy for Eric. They’re still good friends.”
What goes through TJ’s mind now when he hears “Lone Peak 3”?
“That was a long time ago. It hasn’t gone like we thought,” he said. “They are some of my greatest friends and they always will be. I love those guys and I wish the best for each of them in whatever they’re doing in life.”
Childs, who has played with Haws the past four years, has relished being TJ’s teammate. When he signed with BYU, one of the things that he looked forward to most was being on the court with Haws.
“In my sophomore year (of high school) he torched me in the state tournament,” Childs said. “I was like, ‘I get to play with TJ Haws for four years. Are you kidding me? I’m the luckiest dude ever.’ It’s been an unreal journey. I’ve loved every second playing with him.”
Not always roses
Plenty of athletes might have crumbled under the immense weight of the hype placed on TJ Haws.
Haws said he’s never felt pressure to live up to the exploits of his brother Tyler because they are two completely different players in both position and style. It didn’t affect him in high school and it hasn’t affected him at BYU, either.
But people still demanded excellence from TJ.
“I don’t envy him,” Durrant said. “The expectations were off the charts for him. There was an expectation that TJ would be the best Haws and would take BYU to places it had rarely ever been. It hasn’t always been roses for TJ. ”
How has TJ coped? Well, he tries to avoid social media, a breeding ground for naysayers. He’s careful about what he reads and who he listens to.
“It’s been so good for me to formulate my own opinions and have my own thoughts and not have some random person have any influence on me because they don’t know my game and they haven’t been in the gym with me,” TJ said. “They don’t know. I’ve taken all that away from me and it’s been really good for my game and for my mental health.”
Insulating himself from outside voices has been “a good formula that’s worked for TJ,” Marty said.
TJ credits his dad for helping him navigate through his challenges. “He’s been there for me through this whole journey,” he said. “I owe so much to him.”
Meanwhile, plenty of people have denigrated him and focused on his shortcomings.
“He’s taken a lot of crap over the years. Teej has been able to stay away from it. He’s definitely mellowed out as he’s gotten older,” Tyler said. “When he walks on the floor, he thinks he’s the best. He thinks he belongs. No matter what people are saying around him, he’s always going to believe in himself and believe that the next shot is going in.
“That’s how he’s been able to fight through the adversity. A few different times he could have gone sideways. It’s hard to deal with a coaching change as well, with new ways to do things. He’s handled it really well.”
In each of his four seasons in Provo, TJ has had to adjust to a new offensive system, which isn’t easy.
“Every summer, the coaches said, ‘Hey, TJ, come into my office and let’s talk about this new offense and your new role,’” Tavernari said. “And over and over again, he thrived. He was thrown in the blender year after year.”
“The thing I liked about TJ, regardless, was he would find a way to help the team, whether it was scoring or figuring out where he fit in with the offense. He was contributing with steals and assists,” Durrant said. “You don’t get to the top of those lists without always coming through. When he struggled offensively, every other stat was where he needed to be or more. He still found ways to contribute. I think it was frustrating for him, no doubt.”
As he looks back, TJ sees that all of the changes helped his game.
“It’s been great for me to adapt my game to different things and find ways to be effective,” he said. “As a player, you don’t want to be one-dimensional. It’s been good for me.”
During his sophomore season, Haws’ offensive role was reduced and as a junior, he had more freedom. This season, Pope brought yet another new offensive philosophy and Haws has flourished.
“It took TJ and Mark a little bit of time to find their footing,” Haws’ dad said. “They found it and it’s working. That’s a credit to both of them. That’s one of the things that’s really special about TJ and this team. They’re setting everything aside and figuring out a way to do what’s best for the team, win games and finish strong.”
‘Magical’ senior moments
No doubt, TJ Haws is enjoying a storybook senior season. He’s averaging 14 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He’s shooting 47.5% from the field and 38.9% from 3-point range. He’s orchestrated game-winning plays and he’s helped push his team toward the brink of its goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been magical. It’s the kind of year you dream about having as a senior,” Durrant said. “This senior year is neat for him because there’s more of a focus on the things he does really well, like shoot the 3. It’s a good way for him to go out and show what he can do.”
Going into a home game against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 1, TJ and his wife, Lauren, were planning to go straight to the hospital after the game for the birth of their first child. TJ embraced the moment. As if acting out a Hollywood script, he hit the 25-foot, game-winning 3 with a hand in his face, then, less than 24 hours later, he and his wife welcomed their son, Tyson Ralph Haws, into the world.
“You couldn’t have written it better than the way it unfolded. It was just incredible, the final minutes in the Marriott Center,” Tyler said. “So much was riding on those last few minutes. BYU needed to win that game so bad. Everyone in the building knew it. I was so happy for Teej. It was an incredible shot. Sometimes life and sports come together on a special night.”
It’s been gratifying for Marty Haws and his family to see TJ, and the Cougars, produce so many unforgettable moments.
“We’re used to that with TJ. Those high moments come with him and they always have,” Marty said. “He lives for them. It makes for some really high highs. You learn to enjoy it when it happens. It makes for a roller-coaster ride and we love it. I’m so happy for Cougar Nation, that we’ve been able to experience those highs and be in the middle of it. It’s a lot of fun.”
TJ calls becoming a father “life-changing.” He reports that Tyson is “sleeping a lot but it’s been really fun. I feel really blessed to have everything go like it did.”
As Haws’ career winds down, Tyler said his brother is “laser-focused” about finishing this season the right way.
“I texted him the other day saying, ‘It’s crazy the things that you’re doing. I don’t think you’ll appreciate them until later.’ I’m his brother and he responds to something like that with, ‘Yeah, we’re just trying to win games.’ It’s like he’s talking to the press,” Tyler said, laughing. “I’m so happy for Teej and I’m proud of him. He’s worked so hard. He’s believed in himself and put in a lot of time to be good. He doesn’t want to think about individual accolades or his future in basketball. It’s all about how he can help his team win and do special things.”
TJ Haws’ legacy
Among those that can appreciate Haws’ accomplishments is Durrant. Last weekend, Haws passed him on the list for most consecutive games played at 129, third-best in school history.
“He’s been incredibly consistent. Because the teams haven’t been great in recent years, he’s been overlooked. TJ is a blue-collar businessman. Every day he shows up and he does the work,” Durrant said. “If you do that for a long enough time, you’re going to be at the top of the record books.
“I mean, TJ makes a stick figure look fat. It’s a brutal game. For him to not have missed a game or a start, that says a lot about the guy because he’s not built for college basketball, as far as I can see. It says a lot about his mentality. I think that’s why he’s slipped under the radar because he’s been so consistent and gets the job done. I love that about him.” — Mark Durrant
“I mean, TJ makes a stick figure look fat. It’s a brutal game. For him to not have missed a game or a start, that says a lot about the guy because he’s not built for college basketball, as far as I can see. It says a lot about his mentality. I think that’s why he’s slipped under the radar because he’s been so consistent and gets the job done. I love that about him.”
Tyler Haws ranks No. 1 on the list of most BYU games started with 137. That consecutive starts streak is the feat that impresses the older brother the most about TJ.
“You look at all of the players that have come through. It says a lot about who he is and the player that he’s been. To start every game from the moment he’s walked on campus is a really, really hard thing to do,” Tyler said. “He’s done a great job of figuring out his role on each team and how to be a good teammate. It’s hard to play in every game, let alone start every game.
“He’s been through some injuries during the offseason and even during the season. He’s been able to overcome those. It says a lot. That’s the main record that’s helped him achieve the other ones — points, steals and assists. He’s an all-around great player. He shows up every night ready to go, even if his tank isn’t at 100%. It says a lot about his character, how much he cares about his team and winning.”
Only two Cougar players have hit more career 3-pointers than TJ Haws — Jimmer Fredette (296) and Tavernari (265). Haws has 239 and counting. He is tied with Fredette for games with three or more 3-pointers — 47.
“I’m a huge fan of his game. I love the way he plays. I love his vision,” Tavernari said. “TJ has matured to a way that he reads the game and it’s slowed down for him. I won’t say that he’s BYU’s best player but he’s the head of the snake. He’s a playmaker. He’s directing traffic.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what he’s accomplished. Everything that’s been thrown at TJ, he’s overcome those challenges. I’m not surprised by anything he does. He’s had an amazing career.”
And his career isn’t over yet. The goal is to reach the NCAA Tournament and advance.
“That would be huge for me and for this team. We’ve worked so hard,” TJ said. “If we get into that thing, we could make a serious run. I believe in this team and I believe in us against anybody.”
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