PROVO — BYU’s coaching staff, featuring 6-foot-10 Mark Pope and 6-10 Chris Burgess, might be the tallest in the nation.
On Thursday, the Cougars coaches won a big recruiting battle and landed one of the nation’s tallest players — and one of the top grad transfers in the country.
Matt Haarms, a 7-3 center who spent the past three seasons at Purdue, announced he is joining the Cougars next season. He’s immediately eligible and he has one year of eligibility remaining.
“No words can express how excited we are to welcome Matt to our BYU family,” Pope said in a statement. “Clearly with his size, athletic ability, versatility and skill set he has the potential to emerge as one of the premier bigs in college basketball. His passion for the game and intensity on the court are inspiring. There’s a reason he was one of the most sought-after transfers this offseason. And most important, he is one of the most intelligent, engaging, self-aware and giving players I have ever met. BYU fans are going to love this Matt Haarms. He has an extraordinarily bright future in the game.”
Pope, a former Kentucky player, beat out his alma mater, as well as Texas Tech, for Haarms’ services. Earlier this week, Haarms, a native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, narrowed his choices to BYU, Kentucky and Texas Tech.
“Look at coach Pope and his staff. In the one year they’ve been there, they’ve done so many impressive things at BYU,” Haarms told ESPN about his choice. “They’re going to be in the conversation for one of the best staffs in the country. I’m in the best position to be successful. Coach Pope is an absolutely awesome guy. Other programs had more traditional success, but I can go there and be a part — a big part — of a team that wins.”
Thursday’s announcement came on Burgess’ 41st birthday.
“It just came down to my overall feeling about Pope and the coaching staff. It was so many things, but the pieces were all there for me,” Haarms told StadiumWatch,com’s Jeff Goodman. “I trusted coach Pope. That’s not to say I didn’t trust the other coaches, but I think he had the best plan in place for me to succeed.”
Pope played his same position in both college and in the NBA.
“That was important to me,” Haarms said. “He’s played the position and done it at the highest level. He told me he stuck around the league longer than he should have, so I’m hoping he can help me get there.”
Haarms is an elite rim-protector. 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. He was dissatisfied with his role with the Boilermakers and was searching for a fresh start.
CBS Sports’ Seth Davis called Haarms “the best transfer on the market.”
While Haarms was unable to make any campus visits during the pandemic, he said that wasn’t a problem.
“You’re asking the wrong guy that question. That’s a better question for a high school recruit. I’m 23 years old and looking to have one year at a place,” he said. “I don’t care how nice the locker room is or anything like that. Those things I valued coming out of high school don’t really mean much to me anymore. I got all the info I needed from those Zoom calls. I wasn’t lacking any info and I really enjoyed the process. We got right down to the facts.”
Haarms changes the complexion of the 2020-21 BYU team, which finished 24-8 in Pope’s first season at the helm.
Last season, especially when 6-8 Yoeli Childs was sidelined for the first nine games of the season, the Cougars lacked size inside. That won’t be an issue next year. BYU’s front court will include Haarms (7-3), Richard Harward (6-11), Wyatt Lowell (6-10), Gavin Baxter (6-9) and Kolby Lee (6-9). Harward and Lowell redshirted last year and Baxter missed the first 25 games of the season due to a shoulder injury.
In the first year at the helm, Pope has helped bring Childs back for his senior season; brought grad transfer Jake Toolson back to Provo for his senior year, beating out Duke and Virginia; and signed Arizona transfer Alex Barcello.
BYU now has two seniors on its roster — Barcello and Haarms.
Haarms is one of the highest-profile transfers ever to land at BYU, along with Toolson, Barcello, Chase Fischer (Wake Forest), Matt Carlino (UCLA), Elijah Bryant (Elon), Trent Whiting (Utah) and Kevin Nixon (Northwestern).
Earlier this week, Burgess told the Deseret News why getting grad transfers is so important.
“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,” he said. “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.
“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,” Burgess added. “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? 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.”