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Was Matt Haarms’ decision to sign with BYU a blessing in disguise for Kentucky?

© Thomas J. Russo | USATSI

© Thomas J. Russo | USATSI

When momentum shifted away from Kentucky in Matt Haarms’ recruitment and the 7-foot-3 graduate transfer out of Purdue ultimately decided to commit to Mark Pope and the BYU program, serious questions about how John Calipari and the UK coaching staff would close out the 2020-21 roster were raised.

Despite boasting the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, along with the addition of two incoming transfers in Creighton guard Davion Mintz and Rhode Island forward Jacob Toppin, potential options are extremely limited in the frontcourt in the graduate transfer market and in the class of 2020. With a swing-and-miss on Haarms, a player the staff contacted immediately after he entered the transfer portal on April 6, there was a sense of panic throughout the fanbase that the staff wouldn’t be able to close out the roster with an immediate-impact big, thus limiting the team’s potential after losing Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, and Nate Sestina this offseason.

But what if I told you that missing on Haarms may have actually been more beneficial for the team in the long run?

No, missing out on a player who started 41 games in the Big 10 and averaged 16.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes is not a “good” thing, and the team certainly needs a starting-quality center, but Haarms was never going to be the world-beater in Lexington some made him out to be.

In fact, if you ask those close to the Purdue basketball program, the 7-foot-3 center was a poor fit at Kentucky and was always better off at a low-profile school like BYU.

In terms of on-court production, Haarms had a “tough year” at Purdue, dealing with numerous injuries and falling short of lofty expectations.

“It was a tough year for him at Purdue, he was a really productive player his whole career, fans loved him,” Brian Neubert of – the Purdue affiliate on the Rivals network – told KSR. “He was really embedded in the community. But last year was really tough. Obviously Purdue was coming off an Elite Eight year, there were a lot of expectations on him and the team’s other veterans that came back. It was a Big 10 Championship team. He didn’t have the year he wanted to have, he didn’t have the year Purdue needed him to have. Haarms was injured quite a bit, he got a concussion on the first day of practice, got a concussion again in the second Big 10 game at the end of December, hurt his hip at Michigan, all that stuff kind of snowballed on him. Really kind of affected the way he played.”

Part of the reason Haarms fell short of expectations as a junior? Purdue center Trevion Williams, who beat out the 7-foot-3 center for playing time as the year progressed and is now seen as the team’s anchor of the frontcourt.

The fact of the matter is that he was unlikely to play more than 20 minutes per game and would need to look elsewhere if he wished to have a more prominent role as a senior.

“Trevion Williams, he can be one of the best big men in college basketball. He ended the year as Purdue’s starting center,” Neubert told KSR. “It just seemed like those two never found chemistry, the spacing was bad, it just didn’t work. … Haarms, in the last 19 games of the year or something like that, played 20 minutes or more once. Had he come back to Purdue, he realized he was not going to start and he wasn’t going to play more than 20 minutes a game. Can’t blame the kid at all for looking for something more. He is a guy that is really talented, really skilled, has a lot going for him as a basketball player. He can play basketball for a really long time, so you can’t really fault him at all for looking to play a more prominent role somewhere else.”

When the recruiting process began, the potential options came as a bit of a surprise for those who covered him and followed his career at Purdue closely. Haarms’ comment to Corey Evans of that he wanted to find a place where he could “showcase an NBA-ready skillset” and “transition to the pro level” was extremely uncharacteristic of the low-profile center native of Amsterdam.

“He never really talked or indicated that he was looking at himself as a long-term professional, even though everyone looked at him as someone who could play basketball for a very long time,” Neubert said. “He has that potential, but he didn’t ever really carry himself that way. So it was a little bit surprising when he transferred and said he wanted to display his NBA-ready skillset. Which is the most un-‘Matt Haarms’-like thing I think I’ve ever heard him say.”

At the end of the day, there was a consensus that somewhere “more off the radar” was a better fit, even when Kentucky came calling and momentum picked up between both parties.

To be 100% honest with you, I thought he would have been best suited going to BYU or Boston College, somewhere where he’s more off the radar. I don’t know if he’s a big fishbowl guy,” Neubert told KSR. “He’s not necessarily that ultimate competitor that you might think he is just by seeing how demonstrative he is on the floor. Great kid, great human being, unbelievable person, but I don’t know if he’s that guy that will step up and win you a college basketball game.

“That’s a little bit of what Purdue needed this season that they didn’t have. I just think putting him around domineering personalities and guys who are NBA dudes, I think that’s a certain personality type that, if he’s compatible with that, I don’t know. I think there was an adjustment period for him playing with Carsen Edwards, who was that sort of killer at Purdue. I’m assuming everybody at Kentucky is that way because they’re all NBA guys in waiting for the most part. I just don’t know if the stage Kentucky [was] going to put him on is necessarily something he would be comfortable with from day one.

“Throw in the fact that I know how demanding John Calipari is of his players, that [would have been] really interesting. Not that Matt Painter isn’t demanding – he is as demanding as any coach out there – but he’s also really, really cool with his players. I’m sure Calipari is, as well, but when you’re bringing in a guy for one year, you don’t get that natural relationship or that investment with him. Kentucky is not the place for someone who is a step behind everybody else.”

Aside from on-court abilities and personality fit, Neubert was uncertain that Haarms would have connected well in the locker room as a veteran leader with Kentucky’s young talent in the same way Reid Travis and Nate Sestina did the past two years in Lexington.

In fact, Purdue needed a strong veteran presence this past year and were unable to get that from anyone on the roster, Haarms included.

“That’s actually what Purdue needed desperately this season, and they didn’t get it. And I don’t think anyone [on the team] was exempt from blame on that,” Neubert told KSR. “I don’t think Purdue got leadership this year from the guys it needed leadership from, and I think Haaarms was a part of that. Now, he is a conscientious person and he thinks that way, whether or not you can always exercise it necessarily as your surroundings change. Whether you can lead when you’re not playing as well as you want to be playing, sometimes coaches talk about the difficulty in that. But Purdue was missing something this season, and what it needed was its older, experienced players who had played in a lot of NCAA Tournament games to play like it. To be honest with you, that didn’t happen.”

With the reclassification process becoming rather cut-and-dry for interested prospects this year, along with other intriguing pieces remaining in the 2020 class and on the grad transfer market, the options are open for John Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff to close out the roster not only with strong talent, but a better fit.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

17 Comments for Was Matt Haarms’ decision to sign with BYU a blessing in disguise for Kentucky?

  1. jim tom
    7:10 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink


  2. Han
    7:14 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    Might we get someone who’s a much better fit and even more talented if they open immediate transfers? Maybe. Could one of our dream-recruits from 2021 decide to reclass and come to UK? Maybe.

    But if we end up with no one else or a 3-4 year project who can’t stay out of foul trouble, we’re all going to be a lot more regretful over missing on Haarms and others.

  3. TonyMontana
    7:40 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    If the NCAA does indeed allow immediate transfers, there aint no telling who’s gonna be jumping in the portal. I wonder what the deadline is for being able to transfer and still play. If the NCAA does allow immediate transfers… will they announce it prior to that deadline or will they wait until after it to avoid a flood of transfers?

    I feel like there are some really good bigs out there who would love to start at Kentucky and would jump at the opportunity.

  4. JASUN74
    7:42 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    Han, there’s no way in hell that we don’t end up with a couple more fantastic bigs who are going to be really good to great for us! Cal knows exactly what he wants and I’m sure Haarms was seen as a a guy who could’ve helped or Cal wouldn’t have offered. This article is just one guys opinion and Jack trying to look at the bright side! We have no idea how much Matt could’ve helped us and we never will.

    Anyway, of course we would’ve liked to had him, for the writers here and the fans to say otherwise is just wrong. But,,, like I said before, we Kentucky and John Calipari is going to have us in great shape before the season starts. I’d guarantee he’ll get one of the best fits for us and probably another player that will help this season. Everyone needs to clam down and understand who is leading this team! Cal knows what he’s doing! Thanks

    • VirginiaCat
      8:58 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

      The article is a bit more than “one man’s opinion.” It is an opinion informed by numerous sources who are close to the story. Anyone who did a minimal amount of research would come away questioning Haarm’s fit at Kentucky. The fact that Kentucky would recruit him tells me that the coaching staff was a bit desperate. Haarms is the poster boy for “Kentucky is not for everybody,” yet, Cal recruited him anyway. Now, with the expected passage of the one-time immediate transfer rule, Kentucky will get another chance to find the front court talent that is so desperately needed.

  5. bbn606
    7:50 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    Can we please get pass this guy? He is 7’ 3” and averaged 4 rebounds a game. That’s one more than me for every 10 minutes of the game and I’m in my easy chair.

    • T-Town Cat
      8:21 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

      Any player that would choose BYU over UK would not have been a good fit here. Not being critical of the young man. If he had picked Duke or another blue blood program over us, I would feel differently.

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:37 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

      Excellent point T-Town

  6. Blueballz
    8:30 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    Interesting you bring this up now after the entire writing crew was sucking this guy off earlier in the week

  7. VirginiaCat
    9:04 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    Kentucky knew he was not a good fit and recruited him anyway, out of desperation. We got caught short-handed again with time running out, and offered a scholarship to Haarms, who is a poster boy for “Kentucky is not for everybody.” The coaching staff apparently figured that a questionable fit was better than no fit at all. Now, the expected passage of the one time transfer rule has thrown Cal a lifeline. I am hopeful that this reprieve will result in a quality front court addition that we badly need.

  8. chris43
    10:33 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    “Per 40 min” and what you actually average are two different things.

    • bbn606
      5:42 am April 25, 2020 Permalink

      Yes it is and 4 rebounds a game is what you are getting because he can’t get his arse up and down the floor for forty minutes.

  9. hweathers
    11:33 pm April 24, 2020 Permalink

    I wasn’t the least bit panicked.

  10. friendsofcoal
    12:53 am April 25, 2020 Permalink

    Like I said before, he couldn’t play at a school like UK. He made the right choice.

  11. chris43
    4:06 am April 25, 2020 Permalink

    Well now the NCAA isn’t going to pass it until Jan it seems….so back in the same boat of being thin inside.

  12. Bluebloodtoo
    5:10 am April 25, 2020 Permalink

    Exactly! Because why? Sounds like he wasn’t a great fit personality wise. I think, and apparently Cal thought, there was a possibility for mutual benefit. Sounds like he might be similar to Nick, but it took 3 years (or possibly just enough consistent playing time) to settle in mentally for Nick.