At the same time as Jimmermania was spreading across the nation during BYU's remarkable 32-win 2010-11 season, the kid who'd have been the starting small forward on that team was 7,000 miles away in a country he knew little about a few months earlier.
College Hoops Countdown, No. 10: West Coast Conference
• BYU's Tyler Haws returns from his mission eager to pick up where he left off
• WCC Capsule Preview: A loaded Gonzaga team seeks to regain control of the league
For more news on the WCC, visit Rivals.com
Tyler Haws admits he sometimes thinks about whether he could have helped that BYU team go even further than the Sweet 16 had he been there to help on the floor rather than getting weekly updates from his dad via email. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-5 sophomore feels he made the right decision taking two years away from basketball to serve a Mormon mission in the Philippines.
"I never felt any regret," Haws said. "I was happy for what was going on at BYU, but I knew I was supposed to be in the Philippines. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. That experience over there, those two years, will be something I reflect on the rest of my life."
A more mature, more well-rounded Haws returned from the Philippines last April with his mind at ease but his body out of shape. Since he seldom had time to play basketball more than a few times a month during his mission and the competition wasn't exactly Division I caliber, Haws lost 10 pounds of muscle, much of the stamina he'd built up and any semblance of his shooting touch.
In the first few months after he returned to campus, Haws spent long hours lifting weights and conditioning before gradually easing his way back into playing pickup games again and working on his all-around game. Finally back in basketball shape, he hopes to build on the promise he showed before his mission when he started 33 games as a freshman and averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds.
"It was a pretty weird feeling this summer playing pickup games again for the first time in a couple years," Haws said. "I remember getting the ball and being like, 'OK, what do I do with it? Am I supposed to dribble?' Obviously it was rough at the start trying to find my game again and get back into it, but eventually it came back. I feel really comfortable right now."
Haws' return to form is terrific news for a BYU program that needs his perimeter scoring to contend in the WCC this winter. With Haws and Zylstra on the wings, erratic but talented Matt Carlino at point guard and Brandon Davies providing low-post scoring and rebounding in the paint, the Cougars have a formidable enough nucleus to challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary's for the league title.
Haws has developed good chemistry with his teammates on and off the floor since his return, but he admits the program barely resembles the one he left.
The last time Haws donned a BYU uniform in a game, the Cougars still played in the Mountain West, Jimmer was still a name and not a verb and Davies was merely a little-known backup big man. The only two members of the current BYU team Haws played with during the 2009-10 season are Davies and Zylstra.
Haws understands why people who don't know him may wonder why he'd be willing to put such a promising basketball career on hold for two years, but serving a mission is something he has wanted to do since childhood.
He thought the church would send him to Europe since he was born in Belgium and has family over there. Instead he was shocked when he pulled the letter from an envelope during his freshman year at BYU and discovered he'd be going to the other side of the world.
"When I opened it up and saw the Philippines, that was the last place I'd ever think of," Haws said. "I didn't know too much about the Philippines, but I'm so happy I was able to go. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
During his two years in Quezon City just outside of Manila, Haws lived on a regimented schedule.
Six days a week, he woke up by 6:30 a.m. and spent virtually the next 15 hours either studying scripture or knocking on doors around town to spread the word of the Mormon religion. Only one day a week was he permitted to do everyday tasks like shop for groceries, do the laundry and check his email.
Haws believes he has returned from the Philippines with a greater appreciation for the blessings in his own life after seeing how humbly many people there lived. Some of the families he visited lived with six or seven children in a home no bigger than his childhood bedroom back in Utah. Kids who would come to play basketball with him on his off day often didn't have tennis shoes to wear on their feet.
"You go to a third-world country and your eyes open up a bit," Haws said. "You see we have it very good here in America. It made me really grateful for my family and the life we have."
Even a 15-hour flight away from Utah in a country far removed from college basketball, Haws couldn't fully escape Jimmermania. Strangers who knew he played basketball at BYU would approach him at church on Sundays to ask if he knew Fredette or what it was like playing with the sport's biggest superstar at the time.
Those encounters were tough for Haws because it made him think about what he was missing, but he is proud of the choice he made.
"It was a tough decision," he said. "I had some second thoughts, but I knew deep inside it was something I needed to do. Now just returning from my mission, I'm so grateful I was able to go and serve the way I did. I met some of the most amazing people I'll meet my entire life. The Filipino people, they don't have a lot but they're happy. It was a great opportunity to see how the gospel can change other people's lives."