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‘A superhero in my book’: Tyrese Haliburton journeys through basketball with his mother at his side

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It started off a little glamorous, with trips to Greece and Italy. Then came a jaunt out west, followed by a Bahamanian excursion. After that, things became less Instagram-friendly and more road warrior, with a drive to Stillwater, Okla. and some planes, trains and automobiles to Morgantown, WVa.

Through it all, though, Brenda Haliburton was there, attending every single game of the Iowa State season in 2019-20 to savor what would turn out to be the last in Ames for her son, likely NBA draft lottery pick Tyrese.

“With all the NBA talk and not knowing exactly how all that was going to go,” Brenda said, “I didn’t know as far as how much more time he was going to have at Iowa State, so it was my goal to try to hit them all this year.”

It was a goal she achieved by not only attending all 32 ISU games during the season – even after Tyrese’s year ended early due to injury – but by accompanying her son to Greece in June for the FIBA U19 World Cup and then ISU to Italy for the program’s foreign tour in August.

“It’s obviously crazy,” Tyrese told the Ames Tribune. “It’s something I don’t take for granted. The coaching staff at Iowa State always (reminded) me to never take that for granted, having parents like that, my mom especially coming to everything.”

Even for a coach who has been in college basketball for more than two decades, Brenda’s was a noticeable feat.

“The bond between Tyrese and Brenda is as strong as a mother and son bond that I’ve been around,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said, “and I’ve seen some really obviously really strong ones.”

While the scale of Brenda’s travels this past season were unparalleled, her dedication to her son’s basketball career was constant throughout his youth in Oshkosh, Wisc.

“My mom has always come to everything,” Tyrese said. “There have been nights when we played in Milwaukee, so she would go and work and leave with me with a teammate or coach for a night, but make it to the game the next day, whether it was the afternoon or night.”

When ISU was recruiting Haliburton out of high school, Prohm, probing for intel on who he was competing against, asked Brenda where Tyrese and the family had visited as prospective collegiate destinations.

“I bet they went on 20 unofficial visits,” Prohm said.

The reason was a simple, guiding principle.

“I’m like, ‘Holy smokes,’” Prohm said. “And she’s like, ‘Well, I just want to make sure I give him all these opportunities.’

“She was really committed to helping her son.”

Tyrese arrived at ISU as a mostly unheralded recruit. If he hadn’t chosen the Cyclones, he very well may have ended up at Northern Iowa and the Missouri Valley Conference.

So there was little expectation that he would crack a strong ISU lineup as a freshman, with even some questioning whether he would take a redshirt season. Brenda didn’t have plans on doing much more than making the six-hour trek from Oshkosh to Ames.

“She didn’t think I was going to play,” Tyrese said, “so she was like, ‘I’m going to go to all the home games and maybe a Kansas because that’s an experience you’ve got to have.’”

Haliburton, though, had been quietly impressive throughout the summer and fall. So much so, in fact, that when Lindell Wigginton, a former five-star recruit and NBA draft hopeful, went down with a broken foot in the first game of the season, Haliburton moved into the starting lineup.

He would never relinquish his spot, growing into a certified NBA prospect on a team that would win the Big 12 tournament and feature two draft picks.

That meant Brenda traveled a lot more in 2018-19 that she had originally planned.

“I only missed five games,” she said.

And that number very well could have been even fewer.

“The Texas Tech game, the plane wouldn’t take off because of the weather,” Tyrese said. “That was the first game she ever missed. She was super bummed out. I was like, ‘Mom, it’s OK.’ She felt really bad about it.”

That season was the start of trips from Oshkosh to Ames back to Oshkosh in a single day, a ritual that would become commonplace over two seasons for the Haliburton family, with Brenda and her husband John, and their children intimately learning every inch of the more than 350 mile trip across Wisconsin and Iowa.

“You never know with weather,” Brenda said. “Last year, some of the games were just horrible driving home. Our six-hour trip was nine or 10 hours coming home with snow. 

“This year, the weather, there were a couple nights it was foggy, but it was way better than last year.”

Haliburton’s 6-foot-5 frame, 3-point shooting, skill level and high IQ for the game from the point guard position paved the way for a rise from three-star recruit to a potential top-five NBA draft pick in a single season.

He was picked to join Team USA in Greece for the FIBA U19 World Cup, where he and his teammates secured a gold medal. Brenda, as usual, was at Tyrese’s side.

“Greece, I didn’t know until a week before we were leaving,” Brenda said of the Team USA tryout process, “but it was very cool.”

Then came the tour of Italy, the foreign trip programs are permitted to take every four years. At each stop, Brenda was there.

“It was pricey,” she said, “but we had a tour guide the entire time. It was wonderful.”

With two overseas trips already under her belt and the real possibility of Tyrese’s college career coming to a close in the spring, Brenda started making her hopes of perfect attendance known for his sophomore season.

“I never really had the discussion of, ‘I’m going to do it,’” she said. “It was just a goal.”

So Brenda, a postmaster who has always hoarded vacation days, traveled to Corvallis for ISU’s game against Oregon State in November. The family went to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis later that month. Then started the grinding Big 12 slate, including the hard-to-reach Morgantown.

“We actually flew into Baltimore,” Brenda said. “It was a lot cheaper, and I’m all about saving money. 

“We flew in super early in the morning, got our hotel right by the airport, we rested for like two hours and then drove (over 200 miles) to West Virginia. Then we ate afterwards right there, and then we drove back to our hotel that same night and flew out that next morning. 

“We were there for 24 hours.”

That was a trip where plenty could have gone askew, with so many moving parts and variables, to end Brenda’s quest to go to every single game, but it was actually just days later at a Saturday evening game in Ames where her plans were truly tested.

Tyrese had been battling a wrist injury much of the season, and as the calendar flipped to February, he was pretty well resigned to the fact it would bother him until the end of the year.

But as he was knocked from the air and to the floor on a layup attempt Feb. 8 late in the first half against Kansas State at Hilton Coliseum, it would end his season.

Not immediately, though, as Haliburton would gut-out a few excruciating minutes after halftime before ultimately heading back to the bench. Those courageous minutes in which Haliburton essentially played one-handed would prove to be his last in a Cyclone uniform as tests would later reveal a broken wrist.

That could have been a natural conclusion to Brenda’s tireless traveling.

“I was like, ‘Mom, what’s the point?’” Tyrese said.

Instead, both Brenda and John were in Norman just days later to cheer on the Cyclones against Oklahoma despite the fact their son wasn’t in uniform.

“They all (said), ‘Well, now you’re not going to go to the away ones, are you?’” Brenda said of the reaction after Tyrese’s injury. “I said that was my goal, of course I’m still going to go. He’s still there. To me, whether he’s playing or not, he’s still part of that team. So that was my goal.”

Next came the more than 600 miles to Lawrence for the Kansas game. That, though, would pale in comparison to the 900 miles – one way – that Brenda would drive to Stillwater, Okla. on the last day of February to see the Cyclones take on Oklahoma State.

“That Stillwater one was his birthday,” she explained of her Leap Day-born child who only has a true birthday once every four years.

That Herculean effort was followed by a 700-mile hike to Manhattan for the regular-season finale against Kansas State.

“I was like, ‘Mom, you don’t have to do that,’” Tyrese said of his mother’s post-injury dedication, “but she had made it her mission not to miss a game. She was like, ‘I don’t care that you’re hurt. I made it my mission, and they’re still your teammates and friends. They’re important to me. Basketball is important to me.’ 

“I was like, I can’t tell her what to do.”

Brenda believes Tyrese knew he was fighting a futile battle.

“He knew I would still go,” she said. “That’s just the way I am.”

Her commitment wowed Tyrese’s teammates throughout the year, and was appreciated by the coaching staff in a season that saw ISU finish 12-20.

“I appreciate that from a standpoint that I think she really wanted to show her support for the program and the team,” Prohm said. “It really showed how supportive she was of the whole program, about Iowa State and about our coaches and the collective players. 

“I think that speaks volumes about who her and Tyrese are.”

Throughout all those travels, the NBA decision continued to loom for Haliburton, who insists that the choice wasn’t the slam dunk many believed it to be given his status as a potential top-five pick.

“If anybody knew how hard it was for me knowing that I was going to have to leave at the end of the year, it was my mom, for sure,” Tyrese said. “Outside my family, it was easy to be like, ‘He’s leaving, why wouldn’t you go play in the NBA and live your dream?’

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“Well, my mom knew how much Iowa State meant to me, and she knew that it was going to be a hard decision for me ultimately having to do that.”

So to have Brenda not just a phone call away, but even nearer was invaluable for her son.

“She was always there for me, and it was good to have someone to talk about things that weren’t revolving around the NBA,” Tyrese said. “My mom and my dad were big with that, especially my mom because she was everywhere.

“My friends, they want to talk about the NBA. This is all our dreams, they can’t wait for me to get to the NBA and have all this money and be able to play against guys we looked up to growing up, but my mom has always been my rock and the person to talk to about these things.”

It was simply an extension of a truth Tyrese has known his whole life.

“It’s definitely something that as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to be a lot more thankful for,” he said. “She does it with no complaints. She’ll drive there, drive back all in one night, go to work the next morning. 

“My mom has always been my hero and my role model, and she definitely is a superhero in my book.”

Haliburton ultimately did make the decision to pursue his NBA dream and is nearly a lock to be a lottery pick whenever the NBA holds its draft, which is currently unknown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wherever Haliburton lands professionally, though, his family is likely to be.

“My parents are both planning to retire and come out to wherever I go,” he said. 

That means half of the 82-game schedule should be a cinch for Brenda and John to watch their son play at the apex of basketball, but, surely, Brenda won’t try to make the 41 other games on the slate, right?

“Knowing her, I wouldn’t put it past her, let’s say that,” Tyrese said. “I would not be shocked by any means.”

Said Prohm, “I could see it.”

Brenda says she doesn’t plan on pursuing perfect attendance next season, but when she doesn’t quite dismiss it outright, either.

“Don’t,” she says with a laugh, “dare me.”

Source: Des Moines Register