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Open letter to Ralph Haws: You missed TJ’s final run, but so did we all

The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament finished a lot of careers for seniors and it brought down the curtain on a remarkable run of three members of the Haws family.

Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) takes to the court on senior night before facing off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
BYU guard TJ Haws takes to the court on Senior Night before facing off against Gonzaga at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Well, Ralph, you ended up missing it.

But so did we all, Grandpa Haws.

Tenderly and respectfully, we salute the moment lost.

Hearts were heavy when your struggle ended as grandson TJ Haws’ final college season wound down and vicissitudes of this sojourn with a mortal body simply met its big time out. There’s never a best time, but this seemed earlier than it should have been.

But TJ? He did more than well.

It took a worldwide pandemic of a thing called COVID-19 to ultimately end TJ’s dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament and the chance to push forward as far as his college game could go.

But thanks, Ralph.

The kid delivered, albeit shortchanged.

Your remarkable bloodline in BYU uniforms almost scored a combined 6,000 points for the Cougars. TJ needed to score 44 more in any NCAA experience and the Haws family would have made it. As it stands, the Haws threesome point total is a remarkable if not astounding 5,956 career points for the program.

And who knows, the Haws clan may still add to that tally someday.

We thought we’d witnessed it all when your boy Marty showed up. He had that blazing, unnatural speed, the kind that gets behind a defense in football, the kind that breaks a press and turns the corner in basketball, the only kind that breaks the tape in a 100-yard dash. His NCAA dream ended against Clemson in the NCAAs. He ended up No. 6 all-time in assists until TJ passed him.

Then we thought we’d seen everything when Tyler came on the scene with his remarkable skills, his perfect mid-range jumper and lightning release. He became BYU’s all-time leading scorer (2,720) when all was said and done. To do that, he had to surpass the likes of Jimmer Fredette and Danny Ainge, two NCAA players of the year. A consummate scorer and hard-hat go-to-work laborer getting his skills honed to a fine point, he got his NCAA experience in 2015 on the last BYU team to make it there.

Then came TJ.

How’d you get two grandsons like this? Who does that?

Tyler, a two-time Mr. Basketball in Utah and Lone Peak’s all-time leading scorer (1,712 points). Then TJ, who repeated as Utah’s Mr. Basketball and helped win four state championships. As the curtain dropped on his followup act to brother Tyler, TJ climbed to the top 10 at BYU in scoring and assists and top five in 3-point shots. He made the All-WCC team all four years.

I’ve got to say, Ralph, this is an impressive bunch of basketball gene genies.

It seems like yesterday you were at Marty’s practices in the Marriott Center, a proud father, anxious to just take one more sip of watching your son play. Then it continued on, seeing you in the seats in the cavernous Marriott Center, the new annex, the echo of the bouncing ball music to your ears, an anthem of sorts to the soul. A generational experience for a grandpa.

Gotta say this, TJ was one of a kind.

Spirited, draped in an indomitable spirit, TJ has been a competitor to the core and hated losing. Period. He played fearlessly, never backing down. Just 170 pounds girded about with nylon shorts and a jersey, he made it his armor every single day.

TJ broke the stereotype of many BYU basketball players who could muster up plenty of emotion, but were reticent to show it. He played like an inner-city playground product, not like a native of the upper-class hillside suburban nets of Alpine. He had no qualms playing with the needle red-lined and speaking his mind. He played like a cornered cat, with a fierce heart and soul that was inspiring to watch. His play seemed to trigger others, both on his team and that of his foes.

We saw his decisive game-winning basket that killed ranked Houston on the road, set a tone this year with a Yoeli-less squad. His celebration that carried into a collision with the radio broadcast team courtside became legend. And how about that other game-winner against Saint Mary’s in Provo, the day before his wife Lauren delivered his first-born son. Delivery, a new definition for sure.

You can’t make this stuff up.

But it ended too early. He could have marched on to fight another day. He’d worked for it, earned it. Nobody can say he cut a corner, missed a workout or was a slacker. He was as driven as a hurricane until somebody else cut off the wind.

At your funeral March 6, it seemed the mourning would somehow find respite for just a few days while March Madness entered its expected crescendo, one of the most exciting events in sports. We were all ready, poised to somehow witness something in your memory through TJ.

And that would be just fine.

But fate can be a robber, a reckless raconteur of tales we let resonate in our culture. The Big Dance has become that kind of lost story, a lost raffle indeed.

TJ went through a fire in his career. He experienced criticism and judgments as well as complements and praise. He carried the weight of what we called the expectations and hype of the Lone Peak Three in Eric Mika, Nick Emery and himself, a golden trio of hope and aspirations.

In the end, TJ was the only one left standing in a Cougar uniform, somehow speaking for them all on Senior Night in a game where he helped bring the house down with an eclectic upset win over No. 2 Gonzaga.

Ralph, it ended too soon. We had it taken away at the most inopportune time and now as we watch store shelves emptied and people hoarding toilet paper, cruise ships docked and flights canceled, there is one thing nobody can steal and that’s memories you helped bring to the light in the decades before you left us in your final March sadness.

Thank you, grandpa.

We now partner in missing March hoops.