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Why BYU basketball coaches are aggressively pursuing grad transfers — like Purdue’s 7-3 Matt Haarms — and how they’re using creative methods to recruit during the pandemic

One of the many transfers that the Cougars have targeted is Purdue’s 7-foot-3 center, Matt Haarms, who narrowed his list of potential landing spots earlier this week to Kentucky, Texas Tech and BYU. He’s expected to announce his decision Thursday.

Purdue center Matt Haarms drives around Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl, left, during an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. The 7-foot-3 Haarms has BYU along with Kentucky and Texas Tech as his top three schools for where he’ll transfer.
Charlie Neibergall, AP

PROVO — As part of their relentless approach, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and his staff have been aggressively pursuing graduate transfers during this recruiting period.

One of the many transfers that the Cougars have targeted is Purdue’s 7-foot-3 center, Matt Haarms, who earlier this week narrowed his list of potential landing spots to Kentucky, Texas Tech and BYU. He is immediately eligible and has one year of eligibility remaining.

Haarms, who hails from Amsterdam, Netherlands, is expected to publicly announce his decision Thursday.

In three seasons at Purdue, he finished No. 4 all-time in school history with 210 blocks. As a junior last season, Haarms averaged 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game and he shot 52% from the field. He shot 63% as a sophomore.

The BYU coaching staff has a proven track record when it comes to adding grad transfers, including guard Jake Toolson, a transfer from Utah Valley University that starred for the Cougars last season.

As presently constituted, next season’s roster has only one senior, guard Alex Barcello. Assistant coach Chris Burgess said it’s important to pursue the experience and fill immediate needs that grad transfers provide.

“You look at our roster, with the missionaries we’ll have coming back over the next couple of years, it’s important to have a one-year or two-year guy just with the continuity we have coming back,” he said. “We like to stay old. It’s a formula that’s worked for us — recruit old, stay old. Fortunately, with missionaries, they’re already old when they get back. BYU has that already built in.

“We’re talking to a lot of players. We’re always reaching out. A lot of universities are doing that. It doesn’t mean that we’re chasing all of those players hard. But we’re doing our homework. We’re trying to see if they’re a fit,” Burgess added. “There are some guys that we’ve missed on and there are some guys that have committed to us and we’ve said no, it’s not the right fit. We’re chasing guys hard.”

As per NCAA rules, coaches can’t comment on recruits that haven’t signed yet. Burgess is optimistic that BYU will be able to fill its remaining scholarship spots soon.

“Hopefully within in the next few days we’ll find out about a couple and go from there,” Burgess said. “We have a couple of scholarships available. We go pretty big. We’re going to chase guys that want to be part of a top-25 team and we want to fill the shoes that Yoeli (Childs), TJ (Haws), Jake (Toolson), Zac (Seljaas) and Dalton (Nixon) left and all the great players in BYU’s legacy. Fortunately, for us, we’ve got the transfer portal and we scour it every day and we do our homework. We watch our film and do the best we can. We pinpoint a few guys and we chase them and build relationships.”

Due to the spread of COVID-19, coaches are limited in their recruiting methods because recruits can’t make on-campus visits. BYU coaches are making the most of what they can do and the resources available.

“It’s been difficult not getting kids on campus because when you come to campus, the facilities and the city and the mountains are a huge draw when they’re here,” Burgess said. “They meet the players on campus and they’re amazing guys. We don’t have that. We have FaceTime and Zoom and virtual visits and YouTube videos and video edits on how we do player development. We’re running with those as best as we can. We try to get as creative as we can. I’m sure within the next week, we’ll get a player and everything will fall into place.”

Grad transfers are different from other types of players because they’re looking to maximize their final season of college.

“Grad transfers have one year left. I remember being a senior. You have a personal agenda because it’s your last year so it’s human nature to have a personal agenda. It’s OK to have a personal agenda but does it fit with the team? Can they fit with the honor code and what we stand for?” Burgess said. “One of the first things we talk about to recruits is what the university represents. We think we’re going to win and get the right kids, like Alex Barcello and Jake Toolson, because of what the honor code represents. We want those kids. That’s what we’re looking for. We want to get the best players. We want to add depth at certain positions and get someone that’s going to come in and play. There’s no reason to get a grad transfer that’s going to sit on the bench. We want players that are good enough to come in, help us and be in the rotation.”

One of those players that might join BYU is Haarms, who might be drawn to BYU, in part, because Pope played his same position in both college and in the NBA.

The Cougars will find out soon if they can beat out the likes of Kentucky and Texas Tech in this recruiting battle and add a 7-3, rim-protecting grad transfer to their roster.