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BYU 7-3 newcomer Matt Haarms makes quite a first impression

Cougars looking forward to playing with the Purdue grad transfer

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Penn State forward Mike Watkins (24) defends Purdue center Matt Haarms (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Michael Conroy, AP

PROVO — New BYU big man Matt Haarms makes quite a first impression.

The 7-foot-3 grad transfer from Purdue with a 7-6 wingspan has been in Provo for a while participating in voluntary workouts at the Marriott Center Annex. He’s been getting to know his teammates, who recalled the first time they met Haarms.

“My first impression was, ‘Wow, that guy is tall.’ He’s a legit 7-foot-3,” said junior forward Gavin Baxter. “To have his size and coordination is huge for us. He’ll change the game 100%.”

What will it be like playing with someone with his size? 

“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,” Baxter said. “It’s going to be great for me.”

“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.” — BYU forward Gavin Baxter

Wyatt Lowell, who stands 6-foot-10, was taken aback a little when he saw Haarms, who is one of the top rim-protectors in college basketball, in person. 

“When I saw him for the first time at the Annex I was like, ‘What the heck?’ Usually, I’m one of the tallest guys in the gym,” Lowell said. “It’s unreal. He stands there and touches the backboard. This is a whole different level. I’m excited. He’ll change so many things for us. Rim protection on defense is completely different. When we’re running the pick and roll on offense, it just changes so many things.”

Coach Mark Pope, who is 6-10 himself, is eager to utilize Haarms’ abilities. 

“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,” he said. “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 has said because of his team’s size, which includes Haarms, Lowell, 6-11 Richard Harward, 6-9 Baxter and 6-9 Kolby Lee, the Cougars could play a lot of zone defense and they should improve their rebounding production. 

“I have coached zone defense before in a change-of-pace way at times. It’s not a place where I’ve lived. But certainly, it’s hard to look at our roster and not say, hey, you’ve got to at least make that a part of what you do with the length we have,” Pope said. “It allows us to be incredibly long and incredibly deep. (Last season) we were scratching and clawing just to stay alive on the defensive glass. With this frontline, the expectation is that we’re going to compete at a high, high level on the defensive glass and manufacture offense on the offensive glass. We have a chance to be really great on the offensive glass, which is an important part of the game that we didn’t really have the depth or size to explore at a high level last year. It gives us a lot of versatility.”