No matter what he does on the basketball court, Marty Haws is cursed to live with speculation of what might have been. He is, in some ways, too good an athlete for his own good.
Haws, a junior at BYU, is what coach Ladell Andersen calls "the fastest guard I've ever coached"; the kind of guard BYU has rarely, if ever, had. His phenomenal open court speed and penetration ability has television commentators and coaches shaking their heads. Colorado State Coach Boyd Grant mused that Haws "did just about whatever he wanted to," against the Rams. Air Force Coach Reggie Minton and Wichita State Coach Eddie Fogler both spoke admiringly of Haws' skills.But what does he hear only too often?
"You should be playing football."
Haws has demonstrated he can play basketball. He is third on the team in scoring with a 14.7 average and the club's top assist man with 100 in 17 games. Yet rarely does a week pass without someone asking him if he shouldn't really be helping out the Cougar football team.
Even Haws has his moments of curiosity, if not doubt. "Sometimes I'll watch a BYU receiver make a touchdown catch and wonder a little bit," he muses.
Haws doesn't look like an exceptional athlete. At barely 6-foot-2, he doesn't stand out in a crowd. He doesn't have Karl Malone's muscle definition. He looks more like the guy who would sell you your next life insurance policy than someone who once took a rebound off the rim and stuffed it with two hands.
"I don't hear much about looking like a non-athlete," says Haws offhandedly. "I guess they're not going to tell you those things in person."
At Hillcrest High he was one of the best all-around prep athletes in Utah history. He played center field on the state 4A championship Husky baseball team, was a state 100-meter sprint champion and all-state in football, basketball and track.
He was good enough in football that numerous heavyweight schools came calling, hoping to land a gifted wide receiver. Arizona State, Arizona, Washington, Washington State, all the instate and most of the WAC schools tried. They had heard of his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard sprint. But Haws told them he wanted to play basketball.
Track was a diversion and football, well, "Football was just for two or three months out of the year," he says. "You needed 22 guys to play. Basketball was something I could do in my driveway. Basketball was my first love all my life."
Basketball loved Haws as well. He sorted through hoop offers from Colorado, Colorado State, Washington, Santa Barbara, Fresno and, again, the instate schools before signing with BYU in 1984.
Haws still considers basketball his best sport. "I like to think I'm best in basketball," he says. "But those that are older and wiser tell me football is where I'd be best. I don't know. It's interesting to hear people talk."
And talk and talk and talk.
It's not all armchair coaches doing the talking. Gil Brandt, director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, told Doug Robinson of the Deseret News: "I know there's a basketball player out there who should be a football player - Marty Haws. I know all about his high school career. He should go out for football. Ladell will shoot me for saying this, but his best future is in football."
BYU trainer George Curtis won't go that far, but he does characterize Haws as an athlete with the fast twitch muscle fibers that allow a person to do well in areas requiring explosive bursts of speed, acceleration and leaping ability; the kind abilities that would make him an excellent wide receiver. "I haven't seen him play football," says Curtis, "but I heard he was great."
In the early going after signing on a basketball scholarship in 1984, Haws took things more personally than now. At least one newspaper article intimated he couldn't make it in basketball, which bothered him. But that wore off. "I came out of high school with mixed reviews," says Haws. "I got to the point where if something good or bad was written about me, it wouldn't faze me, wouldn't bother me. With the media you can't let the the papers carry you away."
Haws made one trip with the Cougars at the start of the 1984-85 season, then left on an LDS mission. He returned as a freshman for the 1986 year, but spent most of his time on the bench watching Bob Capener's rainbow shots. The guardline was crowded, with Capener, freshman Nathan Call - whom Andersen favored - and Brian Taylor competing for the starting spots. Haws was fourth on the guard depth chart.
It wasn't that Haws lacked ability. But his speed - not always under control - made the coaching staff leery.
They knew one thing: He hadn't lost the speed that drew so much attention. After watching from the bench for most of his freshman season he joined the BYU track team. Haws dramatically cut his time down - from 10.9 to 10.49 - in the 100 meters.
And that was without actually training for track.
Last spring he was on the WAC-champion 4 X 100 meter relay track team and qualified for the NCAAs.
Last year Haws moved into the starting guardline, where he averaged 8.4 points. This season Andersen gave Haws the green light. Lately he has been at his best, scoring 20 against Wichita State and tying a career high with 22 at Colorado State.
Thursday Haws and his teammates will get their first look of the year at Utah when they meet the Utes in the Huntsman Center.
Haws has another year remaining after this. Perhaps by then he will be able to convince everyone he can play basketball as well as football.