by Danny Hazan / @DeeHaze24

BYU sophomore Tyler Haws remembers clearly what he did to ring in 2012.

“In the Philippines, New Year’s is crazy,” Haws recalled. “Fireworks are really cheap over there, so everyone buys them. They’re not just the small ones either, they’re the huge ones that shoot into the air. So you just stay up all night and shoot fireworks until early in the morning.”

A year later, the 6-5 shooting guard created some memorable fireworks of his own by lighting up Virginia Tech for a career-high 42 points on December 29 during a win which consequently served as an emphatic re-introduction to the college hoops landscape.

Following a decorated high school career at Lone Peak (UT) that included two state titles, two Mr. Basketball awards and a long list of school records including leaving as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Haws set a BYU record as a freshman by sinking 48 consecutive free throws and averaged 11 points during the Cougars’ ’09-10 season that ended in the second round of the Big Dance.

Seemingly on the fast track to the pinnacle of his career, with all the accolades every hooper dreams of but a miniscule percentage achieve, Haws put hoops on hold for two years for another part of his life he holds dear, instead of joining Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery on their eventual 2011 Sweet 16 run without much hesitation.

“I had made my decision when I was a little kid that I’d serve a two-year mission,” he said. “I guess I had a few second thoughts and what-ifs, but I always wanted to serve and I knew it was important. When the time came, it wasn’t tough.”

After serving in the Philippines until April of 2012, Haws has been playing as if he never left.

He currently is top 10 in the country in scoring (20.9 ppg), shooting nearly 48 percent from the field, and joined Danny Ainge as the only Cougar to reach 1,000 points in their first two seasons.

Given Haws’ track record on the court, the numbers he’s put up this season aren’t too surprising given his ability to move without the ball, come off screens to knock down shots, or create off the dribble. He also possesses a post-up game rarely seen among two-guards these days.

But it’s his tireless work ethic, which has been the catalyst to his success on the court prior to his mission and since coming back from his two-year hiatus from the game.

Shortly following the conclusion of his freshman season, Haws packed up for the Missionary Training Center in Utah for close to three months before heading off to the Philippines. Playing or training at the Division I level was not on his schedule during that time, but that isn’t to say it was totally out of his life.

“Basketball is really big in the Philippines,” Haws said. “You can’t go down one street without seeing a hoop or a game going. They play barefoot or in flip-flops. So every once in a while, when we’d be walking around they’d see a big, tall American and throw me the ball and tell me to dunk it or shoot it. So I’d stop and shoot with them for a few minutes. But for the most part I didn’t play that much basketball.”

He was up at 6:30 every morning for personal study, along with some study with another missionary, and said he’d proselyte from noon until nine each night.

So while his success playing hoops doesn’t appear much different than before his mission, he said the man underneath the jersey is completely transformed following a couple years serving and interacting with those in the Philippines he sought to help.

“I tell a lot of people that my mission changed my life forever,” Haws said. “One, the Filipino people are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life. Then just seeing Jesus Christ’s gospel help them and improve their lives was a big blessing to me. Being able to serve like that, and step away from basketball, has helped me with a new perspective on life. I feel like I grew up and I’m a different person.”

His outlook and worldview changed, along with some other things on and off the court.

“My little brother (TJ) made fun of my accent for about a month and a half. He thought I talked funny,” Haws remembered.

Besides some ribbing from TJ, Tyler’s transition back to living in the United States and being a student-athlete at BYU also presented some obstacles. Luckily for Haws, he had the guidance of Dave Rose and the rest of the Cougars’ coaching staff as well as his dad Marty who starred at BYU from 1986-1990.

“Obviously physically I wasn’t in Division I basketball shape, so I got together with my coaches and my dad and put together a gameplan of how I was going to do it,” Haws said. “I didn’t play any pickup ball for two months, I just got in the gym and shot with my dad and brother. Then I hit the weight room hard trying to take care of my body and get my legs back under me. I just slowly eased back into the whole process. I finally got my legs back and felt really comfortable.”

The meticulous training process, along with the comfort and confidence that came with it, translated to Haws beginning this season with six straight 20-plus point outputs. BYU currently sits in third place in the West Coast Conference, behind Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, and will most likely need to win the WCC Tournament to ensure its seventh straight NCAA Tourney appearance.

A two-year break from basketball obviously called for dedication to training to get back to the level he was capable of, but his drive to work wasn’t picked up as a cause. Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis got to see it first hand during his high school years.

“Tyler wasn’t blessed with the ability to touch the top of the square,” Lewis said with a chuckle. “He’s a good athlete, but not what there is around the country. He’s tough and he works, and he’s relentless. He has put so much time into individual work, working on his footwork and all the little things that make you good.

“When Tyler was here, every day in the summer he was here 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. doing a shooting workout. He’d go home and get something to eat, then he’d get into some lifting for an hour and a half. Later in the afternoon he’d go back and shoot for a few more hours. That’s not to mention any pickup games he got in those days. This was his normal schedule. This guy has really worked, really worked.”