A Dutchman, a former Wildcat and a Texan walk into Provo …
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
It’s no joke that Matt Haarms, Alex Barcello and Brandon Averette have had a major impact on the BYU men’s basketball team. The punchline is that they are the most unusual group of seniors to even don a Cougar uniform and not one of them had BYU on their radar when they started their college careers.
Haarms, Barcello and Averette will be honored before Saturday’s West Coast Conference regular season finale against Saint Mary’s as the Senior Class of 2021. How they all ended up playing for Mark Pope is as varied as their skill sets.
Haarms, who is from the Netherlands, played his first three seasons at Purdue but was looking for a place where he could develop his skills and make a pro career more of a reality. Barcello, an Arizona prep star who joined BYU before the 2019-20 season, was miserable after two years at the University of Arizona and wanted to play someplace where his skills were more appreciated. Averette started his career at Oklahoma State and played two years for the Cowboys. He followed Pope to Utah Valley and then eventually to BYU.
“Together, we form one full senior,” Haarms joked. “Our uniforms should have all three of our names together.”
Due to the church mission program BYU has had some interesting senior classes over the years. Some seasons there have been five or six seniors from various recruiting classes. In 2017, former Utah State transfer Kyle Davis and Houston grad transfer L.J. Rose were the only seniors, but didn’t play on senior night because of injury. In 2018, BYU had no seniors to honor.
The plan is to recognize Haarms, Barcello and Averette on Saturday even though the NCAA has granted an additional year to seniors if they choose to accept. Haarms said earlier this year he planned on just one year in Provo while Barcello and Averette have yet to announce their intentions.
Haarms is averaging 11 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 56% from the field. He also leads the team with 38 blocks. At 7-foot-3, he is often approached on campus by students and fans.
“I do feel like a BYU guy,” Haarms said. “Even though I haven’t seen fans to the full Marriott Center capacity the support has still been there. Even if it’s 20 feet away someone through their mask will say, ‘Hey, you’re Matt Haarms!’ I actually walk across campus every day. It’s about a 15-minute walk and every day there are interactions. I’m glad to live in the digital age because there is so much support for us on social media and just everywhere. To see that is awesome. I’m definitely a BYU guy for life.”
Barcello was a secondary piece to the Cougars 2019-20 team, adding tenacious defense and 3-point marksmanship to a team that finished 24-8 and was headed to the NCAA Tournament if not for the pandemic. This season, he’s clearly the leader of the team both on and off the court. Barcello is averaging 16 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 50% (46 of 92) from the 3-point line. On Thursday, he set a career high with 29 points against San Francisco and was 7 of 7 from beyond the arc, a program record.
“It’s a special feeling,” Barcello said “Mainly it was just the culture here, the way our coaches tell us just to play for the name on the front of your jersey. It’s been amazing to be able to play with a team that embraces that. They’re not playing for the name on the back of the jersey, we’re playing for the name on the front. We’re representing our school the best we can.”
Averette is the team’s second-leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and draws many of the toughest defensive assignments.
“I do feel like a BYU guy,” he said. “I’m so glad I made the decision to come here. Like Matt said, I’m a Cougar for life.”
Pope, who often called his previous program at Utah Valley “Last Chance U” because of the transfers he recruited, has taken a slightly different approach at BYU. But his salesmanship worked with Haarms, Barcello and Averette.
“The basketball part of what they do is pretty obvious just by the numbers,” Pope said. “What Alex and Brandon have done with their handling ball and creating is great. They are pesky defenders and physical forces on the floor. Matt has given us extraordinary rim protection. He can score the ball play and helps us in every facet of the game.
“But the thing these guys have contributed that is so special is their leadership. Specifically they’ve all gone out of their way every single day to fellowship every guy on the team. They help to teach them what it means to be a great teammate and a Division I player. When things go wrong, these seniors have been a great example of how to be a great teammate. They’ve demonstrated their dedication and commitment and what it takes to be on a Top 20 team.”
BYU beat Saint Mary’s 62-52 on Jan. 14, earning its first victory in Moraga since 2014. The Cougar defense held the Gaels without a field goal for 11 minutes during the second half to erase an eight-point deficit and come away with a win.
Saint Mary’s is just 4-5 in WCC play and 13-7 overall, so the program isn’t as strong as in previous years. But their deliberate offensive style will demand constant focus from BYU.
The Gaels can play a little defense too, holding Pacific to just two points through the first 8:30 of Thursday’s 58-46 win.
The WCC is using a proprietary KenPom algorithm to figure out league tournaments seeds but it appears the Cougars are locked into the No. 2 seed no matter the outcome on Saturday. Saint Mary’s is trying to hold on to the third spot.
“It’s going to be hard,” Pope said. “Saint Mary’s is going to push, scratch, claw and bully you so we know what we’re in for. The game isn’t significant in the conference standings but it’s an important game for us because it’s an opportunity to continue to get better. We’re trying to grow our position for the NCAA Tournament and it’s really important for us to honor our seniors.”