Watching Tyler Haws compete for and eventually earn a spot on the USA Men’s Basketball World University Games Team is easily ranked among the top moments in my time while working with the BYU men’s basketball team.
BYU’s double-overtime win over Florida in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, advancing to the 2011 Sweet 16, collecting trophy after trophy with Jimmer Fredette in Houston, the comeback win over Iona in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, seeing Craig Cusick hit the game-winner against Utah State despite learning earlier that day that his father was diagnosed with cancer, the run to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden earlier this Spring… this ranks right up there with all of those great moments and the many others I’ve witnessed.
This experience began Wednesday evening around 11 p.m. when I jumped in the car with KSL’s Greg Wrubell and Dave Noriega. The three of us had worked all that day at BYU’s Football Media Day. When the last tweets were sent and blogs posted about what should be an exciting 2013 football season, we quickly turned our attention to Haws and his journey to make this team. I also coached my son’s little league team to a tournament win in between Media Day and our departure (sorry for the shameless plug).
The original plan was to leave Thursday around 4 a.m. but we were eager to be there for as many practices as possible. Original is a term I should use fairly loosely. KSL posted a video on YouTube from the first practice Tuesday morning. I texted Greg asking if KSL was in Colorado and he said they'd hired the local affiliate. We both expressed our desired to go but inititally it wasn't much more than a pipe dream. Thanks to cooperation from our bosses and families, it quickly became a reality, although I wasn't 100 percent going until Wednesday around lunch time.
We arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center Thursday morning around 9:30 a.m., in time for the team’s first practice that day but not in time to stop for breakfast. The drive was a fairly smooth 10-hour ride (heavy Denver traffic excluded) that went straight through the night and included maybe an hour or two of interrupted sleep.
That first practice was very encouraging. Tyler looked great and definitely seemed to be in the top half of the players on the court. The second practice was more nerve-wracking. Tyler played fine but certainly wasn’t put in a position to shine.
After a good night’s sleep, we were back in the gym for our third practice and Tyler’s eighth in five days. This practice was much more encouraging. The team was split into groups of five and the groups went at each other in spirited drills. Each drill had a winner and Tyler’s group won or tied for the win in almost every drill. Tyler made several plays to help his team – some that would show up on the stat sheet and many that would not.
Friday night was even more encouraging. No one played extensive minutes as McKillop mixed and matched, no doubt in an effort to see how players would respond to different situations. Tyler played about 11 minutes, and did a little of everything, scoring five points and adding five rebounds, four assists and two steals. He gave maximum effort on every play and left it all out on the court.
We were hopeful – the players likely even more so – that we would receive word of who made the team Friday night. After hours of waiting, it became apparent no announcement was forthcoming and I surrendered to a few hours of restless sleep.
Saturday morning Greg learned from a reliable source that Tyler made the team but we waited until we were in the gym and had official word from USA Basketball to make an announcement.
As an observer, this has been exciting yet nerve wracking. The competition has been intense. All 15 players (the original cut was down to 16 but ultra-talented Rodney Hood of Duke unfortunately suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw) were there because they were talented and brought something to the table that could help the team win games.
Tyler has competed as hard as anyone. He has given it his all on every play and done whatever has been asked of him by the coaches. Despite all that, I never felt completely comfortable that he would make the team because I obviously didn’t know what the coaches and the USA committee were thinking. Tyler wasn’t being given the opportunities to shine offensively like he does at BYU so I kept wondering if they knew how good he really is.
Obviously, the coaches saw what Cougar Nation sees every time Tyler takes the floor as a Cougar, and they rewarded him with a spot on the team.
Whenever BYU plays a game, at home, on the road or a neutral floor, in an NCAA Tournament game or in a home game against a team we are highly favored to beat, I get nervous. I obviously have no way of impacting the outcome of a game – a blessing to the coaches and the players – but I always desire for the players to perform their best because I know how hard they’ve worked to prepare for every game.
That’s how I’ve felt since arriving in Colorado Springs, that same nervous energy I feel before and during games. I have a pretty good sense for how hard Tyler works to become the best player he can be and I have felt all along that he earned and deserved this opportunity.
It’s moments like this that make me proud to work with such great student-athletes and coaches and proud to be a part of BYU basketball.