PROVO, Utah – It’s Marriott Center night in Provo. Students are camping overnight outside. Gonzaga is in town and national TV is queued up and ready for the tip. Inside, at game time, students with painted faces and signs rock in time as band music rings. Players warm up and the cheer squad stretches as aisles dump fans into seats, ready to rise and fall with each possession. The atmosphere so electric you can almost cut it with a knife.
This is what Purdue transfer Matt Haarms used his senior transfer year of eligibility to experience in Provo when he signed to play at BYU.
Head coach Mark Pope lucked out getting Haarms, one of the biggest targets in the transfer portal back in 2019, to sign and come.
But the big crowds never materialized. Not in Provo. Not anywhere.
And now the big man from Amsterdam, a 7-foot-3 rim protector, is gone.
Did he deliver? Was it worth it? Did he like it. Did Pope do the right thing, ultimately benching Kolby Lee, leading to his transfer out of the program?
What happened is exactly what college basketball has turned into these days: a transfer portal wonderland.
The moving parts are constant. It’s an opera woven with the theme that the grass is always greener.
And now, BYU is beating the drum in the portal once again.
“I could never imagine how hard it would be to say goodbye to the BYU community,” Haarms announced last week on social media.
“From the day I committed here I was embraced by both my teammates and the community as a whole and I will be forever grateful for my year in Provo.”
In the long run, Haarms’ decision to move on to the next chapter in his life, is the right one. He will turn 25 soon and he really needs to begin making money for blocking shots. In the short term, he could have used more time in Pope’s incubator, working on his pick-and-roll timing, his shot, his entire game.
But this is what the game is right now.
It is too bad Lee saw more bench time in the process and left for Dixie State.
Haarms gave his best for Pope. I think if he’d stayed, he could have worked on getting stronger, more physical and reaching greater stamina, which could have helped his next step. But he can do that with the right support and motivation in the weeks to come.
Yes, getting Haarms for one season was just fine for BYU.
Haarms was instrumental in BYU making it to the championship game of the WCC Tournament and earning an NCAA Tournament invite for the first time in years.
He helped lead BYU to wins over in-state rivals Utah, Utah State, Utah Valley and Weber State.
I thought Haarms had some great moments. When he went 9 for 9 against Portland it was the best shooting from the field since Kresimir Cosic back in the early ’70s.
He was a 7-3 swat machine at times, definitely changing the way BYU was able to defend in the paint.
He helped the Cougars sweep Saint Mary’s last season. He averaged 11 points and five rebounds a game, shot .546 from the field and an impressive .803 from the line.
Of course, he was just part of the equation for a 20-7 season. BYU relied heavily on transfers Brandon Averette, another one-season-only player, and Arizona transfer Alex Barcello.
Then again, that is fast becoming the cornerstone of Pope’s program, the transfer quick fix athlete.
I do think the success with Haarms and the approach BYU took with recruiting the big Dutchman laid the foundation for making a pitch to Atiki Ally Atiki, a big, raw talent from Tanzania via London Academy in Canada. He will be a freshman at BYU this fall.
By and large, getting Haarms for one season was worth it for both parties.
Good luck, Mr. Haarms.
Come back someday for a packed Marriott Center experience.
You’d like it.