By LYNN DeBRUIN
AP Sports Writer
A year ago, Tyler Haws was out of basketball, except for the occasional pick-up game in the Philippines, where Filipinos would automatically deem the 6-foot-5 “giant” their center.
Now back at Brigham Young, the sophomore guard is coming up big in a different way — with impressive numbers for a returning missionary.
His 42 points Saturday against Virginia Tech were the most by a BYU player not named Jimmer since Bob Skousen had 47 in 1961, and the highest output by a Cougar sophomore in school history.
“He was special,” acknowledged Hokies coach James Johnson, who saw Haws outscore his own top player — then-national scoring leader Erick Green — by 30 points that day. “He can score in a lot of different ways. He’s crafty. He’s smart. He’s probably one of the best guards we’ll play against all year long.”
BYU certainly will be counting on him, especially with the Cougars (10-4) opening West Coast Conference play Thursday against Loyola Marymount (7-6) and with big man Brandon Davies nursing a high-ankle sprain.
That Haws has found his rhythm so quickly after being gone for two years is testament to the plan he, his father and coaches laid out upon his return.
He got in the weight room, avoided pick-up games for a couple of months and decided to “listen to his body” after returning in April from Quezon City, Philippines, where he was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“He said I’m going to take this thing at a good pace but not a break-neck pace,” father Marty Haws recalled. “That’s why I give him credit. The pre-mission Tyler wouldn’t have been able to do that. He would have been going 90 mph and trying to do it all. We said you don’t have to be ready in two months, you have to be ready in six.”
After 14 games, Haws etched his name in the BYU record books for scoring.
He passed his father, who was 10th all-time with 40 points in a single game.
The 42 he finished with against Virginia Tech tied him for eighth all-time with Jimmer Fredette, who also holds the BYU single-game record with 52.
Haws was half a world away during Fredette’s senior season, but he was a freshman starter during the superstar’s junior year when BYU went 30-6, finished No. 17 in The Associated Press poll and knocked off Florida in double-overtime in the NCAA tournament before losing to Kansas State.
“There weren’t a lot of shots that year,” Marty Haws said, noting that BYU also had 3-point marksman Johnathan Tavernari. “As a player, you have a choice to sulk or figure out a way to help the team win.”
Haws did the latter, earning the team’s most inspirational player award and setting a BYU record by making 48 consecutive free throws. He also averaged 11.3 points while starting 33 of 35 games, and his 91.7 percentage for free-throws ranked fourth best in NCAA history for freshmen.
With Fredette and steals leader Jackson Emery graduating in 2011, and Noah Harstock and Charles Abouo after last season — there was room for another scorer to emerge this season.
Enter Haws, a former two-time 5A state MVP at Lone Peak High School in nearby Alpine, Utah.
“He’s always been a guy who works hard in everything he does,” said senior Davies, who arrived at BYU the same year as Haws and is his roommate on the road. “When he was here, we were pushing each other. When he got back, he had the same work ethic and we’ve seen the results.”
On Saturday, Haws was seemingly unstoppable.
He popped 3-pointers from the corner, wing and top of the arc, posted up for layups and spun to the rim to finish BYU fast breaks.
BYU coach Dave Rose said Haws simply is a winner, having led Lone Peak to state titles as a sophomore and junior and to the finals again as a senior.
“I’ve watched him play for most of my life,” Rose said. “He makes winning plays. His high school coach is a great coach and we’ve had conversations about his ability to affect the game for good. We felt when he came here that’s what he would be able to do.”
It helped that Haws was part of one of the best teams in BYU history.
“But he’s gotten off to a much better start after his mission and not playing two years than he did coming out of high school,” Rose said. “It takes a special guy to be able to do what he’s doing.”
The likable, low-key Haws takes it all in stride.
When he started the season scoring 20 points or more in the first six games, Haws said he wasn’t thinking about 20 as a goal.
After Saturday, he said he hopes he doesn’t have to score 40 for BYU to win.
But he acknowledged learning from Fredette when he was putting up big numbers game after game.
“You can’t stay satisfied with anything,” Haws said. “… We’ve got to keep getting better and keep improving.”
Entering WCC play, Haws is averaging 20.9 points and 5.1 rebounds a game and is shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range.
“I do have high expectations of myself and feel like I can do some big things,” Haws said. “But the fun thing is when your team is doing well and winning games.”
Marty Haws, who went on his mission first before returning to play four seasons at BYU in the late 1980s, said there are no guarantees that a player can pick up where he left off — even if some argue that an athlete on a church mission comes back more mature and older.
“I’m not ready to say stepping away from a game for two years helps you at all,” the elder Haws said. “But I know he wouldn’t trade his mission for anything.”
Tyler Haws speaks fondly of the Filipino people and smiles thinking about their love for basketball — even though most came up to his chest.
He said they would tack up hoops without nets on walls and trees, and play barefoot or in flip-flops.
When he walked down the street during the 2011 NBA finals, a few yelled “Hey, Dirk” as if he were Dirk Nowitzki.
“They had no idea who he was,” Marty Haws said with a laugh.
The elder Haws also is quick to say any comparisons between Tyler and Fredette “fall flat” because the 2011 national player of the year was “really special.”
But dad won’t argue the fact that Tyler has surpassed his father in ability.
“I figured out a way to use my speed to become a good basketball player,” said Marty Haws, a point guard who played two years professionally in Belgium, where Tyler was born in 1991. “He’s bigger, more physical and a better scorer, rebounder and defender.”
Don’t expect Haws to get a big head over his big games, or get tripped up by publicity.
Teammates say he’s humble, unflappable and can take the ribbing about his quirky habit of tying his shoelaces seven or eight times for games.
So far everything seems to be working for Haws, who is seeking to join Danny Ainge as one of a handful of BYU players to total 1,000 points over their first two seasons — something even Fredette didn’t accomplish.
Never mind that the mission in the Philippines came in between for Haws.
“I feel like I came back a new person with a different perspective on what’s important in life,” Haws said. “The Filipino people changed me. It’s a Third World country and they don’t have a lot. But they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”