On April 21, 2010, Tyler Haws traveled around the world.
Born in Belgium, bred in Utah, the 19-year-old had just finished his freshman year at BYU and his first season with the Cougars basketball team.
The shooting guard enjoyed a strong season, starting 33 of 35 games and hitting 91.7 percent of his free throws, the fourth-best freshman mark in NCAA history. But most of the spotlight had focused on his teammate, then-junior superstar Jimmer Fredette, whose attacking style of play and sharp shooting led the Cougars to a 30-6 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
When Haws left to serve a two-year mission on behalf of the LDS church in Quezon City, Philippines, he thought he was leaving basketball -- and Jimmer-mania -- behind, albeit temporarily.
But he learned that the Philippines is a hoops-crazed country. "You walk down a street, and you'll see 10 basketball hoops on telephone poles or on the side of houses and kids playing in flip-flops and bare feet," Haws says. "If they see an American, they'll ask you to shoot it or dunk it. I'd do that almost every day."
And when asked to name their favorite players, the popular choice was usually Kobe and LeBron. But several Filipinos asked Haws if he knew a player named Jimmer Fredette.
"I thought, 'I can't believe I'm hearing his name all the way across the world,'" Haws says.
Now back home, he's hearing it again -- but for different reasons. After playing little basketball while abroad, the 6-foot-5 sophomore rejoined the team this fall and started the season by scoring 20-plus points in six straight games. He has led the West Coast Conference all season in total points (606) and points per game averages (20.9), ranking 11th in the nation.
And with two games remaining in the regular season, including tonight's matchup against No. 2 Gonzaga, Haws has already broken the 1,000-point career milestone, becoming only the second sophomore in BYU history to do so (Danny Ainge was the first). If Haws remains a Cougar all four seasons, he could eclipse the BYU record of 2,599 total points -- set by Fredette.
Has the new Jimmer arrived?
Haws grew up in Alpine, Utah, and often attended BYU basketball camps and games. He loved the sport. In sixth grade, he was cut from his school's basketball team. Afterward, Haws sat down with his father, Marty, who played basketball for BYU in the late 1980s. "I want to be good," he told his dad. Marty responded by telling his oldest son that they'd develop a plan, but that he'd have to be dedicated to the sport.
Haws' grandfather suggested he focus on his midrange jumper, so as a Duke fan, Haws studied two of the big Blue Devil scorers of the 2000s, J.J. Redick and Mike Dunleavy.
Several years later, Haws led 5A Lone Peak High School to three consecutive state finals (two championships) and was twice named the MVP. A consistent shooter with a strong all-around game, Haws narrowed his collegiate choices to five: Harvard, Stanford, Davidson, Utah and BYU. Despite his lineage, Haws says he never thought he'd end up at BYU. But after his official visits, he felt comfortable, liked the coaching staff and potential teammates and considered the proximity to home an added perk.
Playing alongside Fredette his freshman season, Haws studied his teammate's game.
"He was so competitive and always on attack so that whenever he got the ball, he thought he could score on anyone," Haws says. "That's something I'm trying to carry over into my game."
BYU coach Dave Rose and his staff let several players compete for the starting spot that Haws won that season. Rose had watched Haws playing AAU basketball and knew that his maturity belied his age.
"He could really score the ball when he was young, which he's obviously still doing now," Rose says. "Sometimes you're impressed with a guy's physical stature, his length, size, speed or quickness, but with Tyler, he impressed our staff with how consistent of a competitor he was. And how successful he was in making plays to help his team win. That has really translated into what he does now."
Before he left for the Philippines, Haws packed a pair of Nike running shoes -- but no basketball shoes. In Quezon City, he worked six days a week. He usually played in a pick-up game at the local LDS church on his day off, but he rarely endured the type of workout of previous years. His father, coaches and teammates would email him updates on BYU's season, but given the demanding schedule of his mission, he didn't have much time to follow the happenings at home.
During his last six months abroad, Haws awoke at 6 a.m. most mornings to go running, either through the streets or on a large set of stairs outside of his apartment. He'd follow his run with push-ups, sit-ups and jump rope drills -- but very little basketball.
He returned home on April 12, 2012. Several days later, he and Marty had a casual shootaround. "It felt awesome just shooting the ball again," Haws says. But he didn't play in an actual game for several months. Instead, he focused on rebuilding his strength and conditioning, lifting weights and running.
"The advice from me for guys returning from their mission is always the same: to slowly work back," Rose says. "It's hard for athletes to do that because they want to push themselves. But that's not the most effective way to push your body after you haven't done a lot for two years. Ty was really disciplined: He kept to a routine, was diligent in the daily process, resting his body and working out in small groups."
While back on campus this past summer, Haws worked out with his teammates. Senior Brandon Davies, who lived with Haws during their freshman year, says the progression was steady. "He's such a hard worker that his expectations for himself are so high," Davies says. "You kind of felt like he wanted to be back where he was right away, but he was patient."
During the first game of the season, a team-on-team exhibition played on Oct. 24, Haws scored 24 points. In the team's first regular-season matchup, he scored 22 points versus Tennessee State. Then came another 22-point game. He followed that with 23 points in a loss to Florida State, and 21 against Notre Dame. It wasn't until Nov. 28 that a team -- Montana -- held him to under 20 points. But BYU won thanks to Haws' 18.
"I felt really comfortable right from our first home game," Haws says in explaining his consistency.
And it's not only that he's scoring points. Against the Seminoles, Haws totaled nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. As the season progressed, teams tried to stop him with various defensive tactics -- press, man, physical play -- but he's remained an attacking force. "If we all play the right way -- at BYU, we like to play up-tempo and fast -- if we're doing that, we're good," he says.
BYU faced Virginia Tech, who has boasted the nation's leading scorer all season in senior Erick Green, on Dec. 29. The Cougars held Green to 12 points in 31 minutes. Haws' point total? 42.
"I felt like the hoop was two or three sizes bigger than it usually is, and I couldn't shoot it fast enough," Haws says. He didn't set the BYU record for scoring in a single game (52 points by Fredette in 2011), but he came close despite Virginia Tech's midgame switch from zone to a man defense in trying to shut him down.
Other teams have tried the same tactic, particularly in the latter half of the season, when Haws' scoring totals have tapered somewhat (he had 12 points against Saint Mary's last week). But he still leads his team and conference in scoring, and ranks third in the league in free throw percentage (86.6).
"I think that the way we play is really kind of the perfect system for Ty," Rose says. "He's a guy who really pushes himself and when guys are up in front of the break or in transition, the ball is expected to be moved to them. Guys in that setting have the ability to take quick shots, if they're open. His skill level is especially in a midrange game coming off screens, and I think our players would tell you that if it's a good shot and in our system, most guys have the green light."
Occasionally, Haws' hot hand has fallen short. Against Gonzaga on Jan. 24, he was held to 0-for-9 shooting and one point in the Cougars' 20-point loss, a season low heading into tonight's rematch.
His mental approach to the game has changed as well, due in large part to his mission work. "The mental side of basketball has been a lot better for me after my mission than it was before," Haws says. "I used to stress out over lots of dumb things, but now I have a different perspective on life and what's important."
On Monday, Haws was named one of 25 finalists for the 2013 Lou Henson Award, given each year to the top mid-major player in college basketball.
Whether Haws will break Fredette's BYU career record remains to be seen. But there's little doubt his offensive attack will continue to wreak havoc on opponents -- and possibly the record books.