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Matt Haarms’ return to Hoosier State for NCAA Tournament brings career full circle

As the Cougars play in the first round Saturday, the 7-foot-3 native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, finds himself entering the final stretch of his college career in the place where it began

Pepperdine Waves center Victor Ohia Obioha (34) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Matt Haarms (3) work for a rebound as BYU and Pepperdine play in semifinal West Coast Conference tournament basketball action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021.
Pepperdine Waves center Victor Ohia Obioha and BYU forward Matt Haarms battle for a rebound in semifinal of West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Senior Matt Haarms spent three seasons at Purdue, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, before transferring to BYU last spring.

As the sixth-seeded Cougars play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday (7:40 p.m., MDT, CBS), the 7-foot-3 native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, finds himself entering the final stretch of his college career in the place where it all began.

This season, the entire NCAA Tournament will be played in the state of Indiana. Some games, such as Thursday’s First Four matchup between No. 11 seeds Michigan State and UCLA (BYU plays the winner of that game Saturday) will be played at Mackey Arena, located on Purdue’s campus.

And BYU’s first-round contest will be played at venerated Hinkle Fieldhouse, on the campus of Butler University.

Haarms likes that he’s returning to the Hoosier State for the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s cool. I hope some people still have some love for me there. I know we’re going to have some fans in there so if some Purdue fans come to a BYU game, hopefully they’ll cheer for us,” he said. “There are great venues in the state of Indiana like Mackey Arena, Assembly Hall. It would be very weird to return to Mackey Arena but kind of cool in a way.”

Before it was announced the Cougars would be playing their first-round game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Haarms said, “One place I haven’t played there is Hinkle Fieldhouse. To be able to play there would kind of cross off all the awesome arenas in Indiana off my Indiana arena bucket list. To cross Hinkle off would be pretty cool. Any arena we play at will be awesome because they’re all great environments.”

By the way, when Cougars guard Alex Barcello was looking for a place to transfer after his time at Arizona, he narrowed his choices to BYU and Butler. So Barcello will end up playing at least one game on Butler’s home floor.

“Hinkle Fieldhouse has reigned as one of the nation’s great sports arenas for eight decades,” according to Butler’s website. “(It) has stood the test of time, maintaining the splendor, character and atmosphere that made it one of the nation’s most famous arenas for nearly a century.”

While Haarms is familiar with the venues and atmosphere in Indiana, he said that won’t give him much of an advantage in the NCAA Tournament.

Haarms evoked a scene from the movie “Hoosiers,” at Hinkle Fieldhouse, when discussing the big stage of the NCAA Tournament.

Purdue center Matt Haarms shoots over the top of the Indiana defense during game Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in West Lafayette, Indiana. Having played three seasons for the Boilermakers, Haarms is well-versed in Indiana basketball arenas but has never played at the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University, site of BYU’s first-round game.
Doug McSchooler, Associated Press

“I don’t know how much it will help me. Basketball is basketball. We’re going to be playing on a floor that’s the same measurements as they are here. The hoops are also the same height,” he said. “I don’t know about me basically being an Indiana native. It isn’t going to do a whole lot for me. I’m familiar with the arenas, mostly, but it doesn’t mean anything, honestly.

“Every team is going to be ready in the same way that we are. We’ve just got to go out there and compete harder. That’s what it’s going to come down to. I’m familiar with the state of Indiana but I don’t think it will give me an advantage over a team that hasn’t ever played in the state of Indiana.”

During his only season at BYU, Haarms has averaged 11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.

As his collegiate career approaches its close, it’s fitting that he’s returning to Indiana.

“If we end up playing in Mackey Arena, that will be a homecoming for me. It would be nice,” he said. “There’s a lot of people I know back there. ... I spent a lot of time there. To be able to come back to that state, I have a bit of my family, basically, still back there. I’m glad to be able to go back to a place I’m so familiar with.

“I know a lot of people. Hopefully, I can get some of those people to the games. It’s weird. Last year, transferring, coming here I wasn’t thinking that I’d be right back where it started a year later. That was something that’s really unexpected. Especially if we play in one of those very familiar arenas for me. I’ve been successful at Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena. I hope to be able to continue that success.”