Stanford Daily | True Grit: Jerod Haase makes “tough” the basketball team’s prime virtue
Widgets Magazine
Coach Jerod Haase (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Head coach Jerod Haase paces the floor during the Cardinal's Nov. 30 game against Saint Mary's. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

It’s Wednesday of Dead Week, and though there’s a two-week break in the schedule for final exams, the men’s basketball team is warming up for practice like any other day.

“Today, the first thing we’re going to do at practice is show a clip yesterday of three guys diving on the floor,” booms a mellifluous, slightly twangy voice in Maples Pavilion. The selection of film is more than appropriate for anyone who knows the reputation of Jerod Albert Haase, Stanford’s new head coach.

Playing guard at the University of Kansas two decades ago, Haase dove for so many loose balls that Jayhawks statisticians began recording “floor burns” as an official metric in games.

On his first day on the job, Haase announced three pillars that the team was to follow: invested, tough and selfless. Floor burns epitomize every aspect of the these three pillars. Invested, because a player must risk embarrassment or injury in order to make a play that will benefit him in the long run. Tough, because he sacrifices his body, going against the human instinct to avoid painful collisions like hitting the ground. And selfless, because he takes one for the team.

“Any championship-level team has that level of investment where people are willing to give up their bodies and give up themselves for other people,” Haase says.

Haase’s past has not gone unnoticed by the team, at least according to fifth-year senior Grant Verhoeven.

“It sets the tone for how we need to play, him being a really gritty guy the way he played,” remarks the big man. “He was diving after loose balls, taking charges, so that’s something that I’ve really taken to heart since he got here.”

Junior forward Dorian Pickens says Haase tries to make this floor burn mindset part of the culture.

“He definitely tries to carry his characteristics that he had onto us,” Pickens claims. “Being a tough guy, [a] hard-working guy, a guy who’s going to grind every possession, a guy who’s going to really just compete at the highest level and do whatever it takes for his team to win. And those are all traits that he tries to instill into us and habits that he tries to build with us every day.”

Haase and Orlich

Tom Orlich (second from left), Stanford's director of operations and assistant athletic director, coached the teenaged Haase at South Lake Tahoe High School 25 years ago. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

“Too slow to play”

Born on April Fool’s Day, Haase was destined to have thick skin. Fortunately for him, he has only been pranked a handful of times on his birthday.

“Not very much,” he says. “I’ve been lucky so far. I guess there will probably be a big one at some point.”

He certainly seemed a likely target of gags, what with him being the youngest of five siblings, all of whom played intercollegiate sports. Mara, Karin and David, the three oldest Haase children, attended college on scholarship for cross-country skiing. Haase would often tag along to his older brother Steven’s basketball practices in grade school, leading him to fall in love with the game.

“My parents were active and love athletics. It wasn’t ever an issue of what we were doing, as long as we were out of the house and being active and playing sports,” he explains. “I was the beneficiary of seeing my brothers and sisters compete at such a high level. I got used to seeing what it took and the dedication and was able to apply some of those lessons.”

Standing in the shadows of his siblings made the young Haase all the more gritty and tireless a competitor.

“I remember Jerod, he was pretty young, he went to camp and they were asked to do tricks with the basketball,” Haase’s mother Carol told The Birmingham News. “He wanted to do better than his brother. He asked for a unicycle so he could dribble the basketball while riding. He was probably in third grade, and he was riding this unicycle and bouncing two basketballs.”

He sat on the bench his freshman year of high school at South Lake Tahoe as Steven, a senior and the star of the varsity team, hit a buzzer-beater to win a zone championship game that would go down in their school’s history as one of the greats.

Following in his brother’s footsteps seemed unlikely at first for the 5-foot-6, 140-pound guard. Even as he grew both physically and skill-wise, he flew relatively under the radar his first two years of high school. Though he began notching more playing time and shooting more consistently, Haase was not yet getting recognition from college coaches.

“I remember in his junior year, I had a Division I coach tell me that he was too slow to play Division I basketball,” recalls Tom Orlich, Haase’s head coach at South Lake Tahoe and now Stanford basketball’s director of operations and assistant athletic director.

Orlich says he spent a good deal of time with Haase during the summers working on his speed and fundamentals. What he lacked in celerity, he made up in floor burns. Where his elbow shot faltered, the elbow grease he put into the game stayed steady.

“He’s a type of ragtag player where he didn’t play pretty at times, he would dive across the floor, he would play with a tremendous amount of emotion, he would take pride in taking charges, he would take pride in getting an assist,” mused Orlich. “And yet by the same token, he could get a big shot for you from the three or a pull-up, and he would also hit the defensive boards, so he did a little bit of everything and he really embraced the intangibles in the game.”

In the summer before his senior year, Haase attended the Stanford High Potential Camp, a popular destination for Division I coaches, especially those in the Bay Area. He was named the camp’s most valuable player, a signal that a transformation had taken place. It became clear that Haase could in fact play at the next level.

“That coach ate his words,” Orlich gibes at Haase’s doubter.

If his standout play didn’t catch the eye of Stanford’s then-head coach Mike Montgomery, it certainly did soon after at South Lake Tahoe’s own high-profile tournament later that summer.

While Montgomery watched from one sideline, Cal’s head coach Lou Campanelli scouted Haase from the other.

“Coach Campanelli just loved every facet of Jared and appreciated him,” Orlich says. “As much as [Campelli’s recruiting him] occurred, he really wanted to go to Stanford.”

Haase remembers, “I really thought Stanford was — I would label it — a dream school for me.”

Being a member of the Cardinal was not in the cards for Haase, as he was ultimately never offered a scholarship. Although his admiration for Stanford would impact his decision to accept a head coaching offer 24 years later, Haase says he would not have taken the job if he didn’t believe the program was championship caliber.

In the winter of 1992, Haase started playing for the Golden Bears alongside former NBA star and current Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd.

Coach Jerod Haase (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

(RYAN JAE/The Stanford Daily)

New team, new dreams

During his freshman year of college, Haase hit some tumultuous times.

While Haase recovered from a loss at USC, his father Gary passed away at age 55 from a foot infection that spread throughout his body. Haase completed the Southern California trip by scoring 16 points for Cal — Gary Haase’s alma mater — in an upset victory against UCLA which he dedicated to his father.

Only weeks later, another shakeup occurred as Campanelli was fired. The Bears finished the season by being knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Kansas. Haase no longer found Cal to be the right fit and so leapt at the opportunity to transfer to Kansas and play for Roy Williams.

“It was an opportunity to live the dream of playing at the highest level with a group that had a lot of similar core values, and I played for a coach, in Coach Williams, that believes in a lot of the same things I do,” Haase says. “And then academically, I was able to realize my dreams there as well.”

As a sophomore, Haase was named Big Eight Newcomer of the Year and led the Jayhawks in scoring with 15 points per game.

In 1996-97, he started with four future NBA players in Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard.

“I tried to learn a lot from him,” Haase says of Pierce. “Even in college, it was easy to tell how talented he was.”

The true test of grit for Haase came in that final season, when he played several games with a broken wrist. Despite the injury, which would require surgery after the season, the resilient co-captain helped his team achieve a 34-2 record and was named a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith Awards.

Haase wasn’t just recognized for his basketball skills. His academic prowess earned him the title of Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997 at Kansas. He was an Academic All-American his senior year. And a few years after graduating and writing a book, titled “Floor Burns,” about that senior season, he went back to earn his MBA from Kansas in 2000.

And for as much as the Haases were athletes, they were also academics. Haase’s mother and sister were both teachers, and doing well in school was a priority growing up.

So when the position at Nerd Nation opened up, after having coached at his alma mater and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, coming here was a no-brainer.

Haase told the San Francisco Chronicle that when former head coach Johnny Dawkins was fired in March, Haase said to his wife, “Stanford opened. That’s the one I’d really love.”

Ensuring his players are hitting the books as hard as they’re hitting the boards doesn’t require too much effort.

“At Stanford, it’s not something that you even have to talk about every day, because the guys that come here already value it,” explains Haase. “We certainly make sure they have a balance where they can put the time and resources and energy into the academic side of things, but that’s one of the joys of Stanford is we’re not trying to twist their arms, because they value the education from the beginning.”

Stanford’s appeal wasn’t only academic, though; Haase and his staff think they will have substantial success on the court, too.

“This is a perfect fit for him,” says Orlich. “This is his dream job, and he truly believes that we can win a national championship here.”

Coach Jerod Haase (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Haase gathers with Reid Travis (far left) and the rest of the team for the postgame recitation of "Hail, Stanford, Hail!" (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

“Most-loved coach in the building”

On Dec. 3, Haase had a homecoming of sorts when Stanford traveled to Lawrence, Kansas, to face off against his alma mater, then the No. 4 team in the country.

A beloved former Jayhawks assistant coach, Haase was worshiped even more as a player in Allen Fieldhouse, where he went a perfect 42-0. He was bound to be well received.

“He’ll be the most-loved coach in the building,” Kansas head coach Bill Self joked to The Kansas City Star before the game.

Perhaps an exaggeration, Self’s words definitely carried a significant amount of truth as Haase entered Jayhawks territory.

“Right off the plane, people were running to shake his hand," says junior Reid Travis. "Like somebody was telling me he’s a legend.”

Haase currently sits at No. 32 on Kansas' all-time scoring list, No. 18 in career assists and No. 11 in steals and threes made. During his time assisting Roy Williams, Kansas led the nation in assists, lowest opponent field goal percentage and win percentage in 2001, became the only team go undefeated in Big 12 play while ranking first in field goal percentage and scoring in 2002, and ranked No. 1 in scoring margin in 2003. Lifelong Jayhawks fans no doubt remember the Roy Williams era, including Haase’s years both playing and coaching, as a golden age in Kansas history.

“People came up to him saying, ‘It’s really awesome to have you back here,’” Verhoeven recounts. “When we got back to the hotel, they had a little message on the board saying, ‘Welcome home, Coach.’”

When Haase’s name was announced before the game, a sold-out crowd rose to its feet to pay respects to the phenom.

Despite the team being uplifted by the reception of its coach and despite a career day for Travis, the Cardinal ultimately dropped the game to the Jayhawks.

“It’s really a good feeling to have people say nice things and recognize that I was there,” says Haase, pausing. “But at the end of the day, it would’ve been nice to have played just a little bit better as well.”

Coach Jerod Haase (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Haase draws up a play during a team huddle. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford: A national powerhouse?

Throughout his basketball career, Haase’s teams boasted an undeniable home court advantage. Going undefeated at home in all three seasons as a Jayhawk and in his final season of head coaching the UAB Blazers, Haase knows the effect a familiar court and boisterous crowd can have.

“There’s no question that one thing that makes college basketball great is the home crowds and the atmosphere, and I think that we have work to do here,” says Haase. “The best way for us to build the fanbase and build the enthusiasm is to have success on the court and win a bunch of games.”

Haase describes a marketing plan targeted specifically at students that he hopes will ameliorate the meager turnout in what should be the loudest section in Maples. Actively engaging fans at student events around campus, passing out “6th Man” T-shirts to dorms and holding their own events are just some of the ways Haase and his staff are approaching this effort.

Getting students out to games is only half the battle, though.

“The thing that’ll help the most is if they come out and see our guys play as hard as they can and see our guys fully invested in what we’re doing,” says Haase.

Pickens lauds his coach’s attempt to revitalize the Stanford fan community, particularly among students.

“He’s done a great job. He’s doing the best job I’ve seen any coaching staff member do since I’ve been here my three years,” says Pickens.

If Haase were to give one message to students, it would be to mirror their enthusiasm for other activities on campus in which they might be more involved when supporting the basketball team.

“Stanford is a place where there’s a great deal of passion in so many different ways,” marvels Haase. “Hopefully the basketball program will embody that. For us to be successful, we need a great crowd.”

Haase hopes to create a winning culture at Stanford, but doing so will take a long-term vision for the program.

“I’m a big program guy. Yes it’s about winning games, but you win games by having a quality program,” he says. “This year, we want to be playing our best in February and March, and I think we’ve laid a good foundation in a lot of different ways with the program. The guys are competing. We’re playing hard. We understand the goals that we have offensively and defensively, and now it’s time to improve. We need to improve faster than other teams improve.”

Ultimately, Haase says he wants people to see his competitive, tough-minded side as only one part of a multifaceted coach and coaching style. He hopes to be remembered as much, if not more, for his resilience in the face of adversity, his knack for galvanizing a home crowd and his ability to develop well-rounded men who are true student-athletes.

But “tough” nevertheless remains a key that the team will live by.

“At the very first day of official practice, he conveyed that message that this was going to be our identity,” says Orlich, referring to the three core values of invested, tough and selfless. “When somebody walked into the gym, they were going to know the Stanford brand of basketball.”

Once that brand is established, Orlich believes the Cardinal can rise to prominence, possibly even becoming a NCAA powerhouse.

“Stanford’s going to be one of the national powers in the few years to come,” insists Orlich.”It’s going to take a year or two to fill out some of the needs of the team, but without doubt, Stanford’s going to rise to new heights. I have no doubt about it.”

Whether that dream can be realized by the Cardinal in the near future remains to be seen. But with a man at the helm who recorded over 160 floor burns in his junior year of college and played his entire senior season with a fractured scaphoid bone in his shooting arm, Stanford basketball is certain to follow that second and central pillar: tough.

Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech 'at' stanford.edu.