A fan favorite during his playing days at the University of Kansas, Jerod Haase received a hero’s welcome on Dec. 3, 2016 — the day he brought his Stanford basketball team to Allen Fieldhouse to face the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks.
Many friends and former classmates approached the 1997 KU graduate during warmups to hug or grasp the hand of the gritty 6-foot-3 former Jayhawk guard, whose teams went 42-0 in an Allen Fieldhouse during his three-year KU career (1995-97).
The usual packed house of 16,300 stood and applauded not only during pre-game introductions of the teams, but during the playing of KU’s pump-up video, which included highlights of Haase in a Jayhawk uniform.
KU went on to win that game over Haase’s first Stanford team, 89-74.
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“For sure,” Haase said Thursday in a phone conversation with The Star, when asked if he appreciated the warm welcome of Jayhawk fans. His third Stanford team, 4-3 and unranked, will take on the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (5-0) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Allen.
“Look, it’s such an emotional time in my life. It means so much to me,” he said of his years at KU. “The whole phrase, ‘Blood, sweat and tears’ … There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears in my time in the fieldhouse and it’s neat when it is recognized and certainly appreciated.
“But I also understand everybody there (Saturday) is going to do everything to help the Jayhawks and they also understand I’m going to do everything I can to have Stanford play great.”
Haase, 44, has had his emotions tugged upon in two other games this young season. First, on Nov. 9, Stanford defeated his former KU roommate and fellow KU and North Carolina staff member C.B. McGrath’s UNC Wilmington squad 72-59 in Wilmington, N.C.
Then three days later, Stanford fell to Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels 90-72 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Haase and McGrath assisted Williams during the Tar Heels’ 2005 and ’09 national-title seasons. Haase and McGrath also were members of Williams’ coaching staff at KU during the 2002 and ’03 Final Four campaigns.
“Well, I will say I’ll be able to be focused on the game,” Haase said of Saturday’s Stanford-KU contest. “It was a neat deal to hopefully help C.B. in some ways to get a BCS program in Wilmington (for a marquee home game). I think he’s enjoying being a head coach. He’s doing a great job for sure.
“I don’t really like playing Kansas or Carolina, but I do think it’s a positive thing for our program at this point, try to get on a national stage a little bit more,” Haase added. “At game time, I’ll need to be focused and see if we can improve.”
The Cardinal starts two freshmen and three sophomores. KenPom.com ranks Stanford 337 out of 353 Division I teams in terms of “years of college experience” of players on the roster. KU also is young, ranking 285th.
“It’s a ton of fun to coach,” Haase said of a young team. “Sometimes competing gets a little frustrating because you don’t have the experience. There’s actually a ton of similarities to my third year at UAB (when UAB went 20-16 and 12-6 in Conference USA; improving to 26-7, 16-2 his fourth and final year, 2015-16). We were really young there. It was fun to see the team grow. I do have a lot of confidence and belief we will become a good team in time, but there’s a lot of progress to be had.
“I use the phrase ‘brick by brick’ a lot. I do think we’re laying a strong foundation in laying the bricks down. The problem is it’s going to be a big house. I do think we are making improvement.”
KU coach Bill Self says Stanford, which is led in scoring through seven games by sophomore forward KZ Okpala (16.3 points per game) and boasts a stingy defense.
“You look at the most amazing stat with them … their opponents have made 25 threes against them for the year. That’s 3.5 a game. Think about that. They are getting out and are guarding the arc. With their length they can do that,” Self stated.
Stanford, which has made 40 threes in 133 tries (30.1 percent), has held foes to 25 threes in 104 tries (24 percent). KU has cashed 40 of 91 threes (44 percent) and held foes to 54 of 143 three-point shooting (37.8).
“Hey, let’s talk about that the rest of the time because we have some weaknesses. I’d rather just focus on that,” Haase said of effective three-point defense, with a laugh. “I think it’s a small sample size so far. I would say we are trying to take away the three-point shot. We are trying to pressure people, and a lot of it turns into our ability to guard the ball one-on-one. If we can do that, it allows you to not overhelp and get to the shooters.”
Of course, Haase realizes stopping KU inside and out will be difficult Saturday.
“They are super talented,” Haase said. “Bill Self and his staff have done a phenomenal job as always in recruiting, so the talent level is off the charts. He does such a great job of coaching them defensively. They are great one-on-one defenders. They are moving the ball. (Udoka) Azubuike was a little too much for us last year. We’ll need to try to do a better job with him this year.”
KU’s Azubuike scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds in KU’s 75-54 win over Stanford last Dec. 21 in Sacramento, Calif. KU, as mentioned earlier, prevailed by 15 points in Allen Fieldhouse in the first game of this current four-game, four-year series which concludes next December at Stanford.
After that, it’s always possible the series will be renewed at some point. Self said he respects the job Haase has done both in coaching and while playing in the backcourt at KU.
“Obviously Jerod is a KU favorite from years past,” Self said. “He played on the same team as Scot (Pollard), that great team with Jacque (Vaughn), Jerod, Paul (Pierce), Scot and a guy named LaFrentz (Raef).”
Indeed, KU went 34-2 during Haase’s senior year (1996-97).
“That may be the most talented team Kansas has ever had,” Self added of the squad that went 15-1 in the Big 12, won the Big 12 tournament and lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16. “He played the game the right way as people here know. He’s a good guy. I hope in the pre-game introductions we all take a moment to honor him in our way and take about 40 minutes to make sure that’s the only honoring that will get done,” Self added with a laugh.
Haase’s wife, Mindy, a fellow KU grad from Lenexa, will attend Saturday’s game with their children — Gavin (11), Garrett (8) and Gabrielle (6).
“Every time he comes back hopefully, whether it be Jerod, whether if Turg (Mark Turgeon, Maryland coach) would ever play here or Tad (Boyle, Colorado coach) ever play here again or Danny (Manning, Wake Forest coach) or anybody that has given this university a lot, I certainly hope the fans do pay respect in a way they deserve, which I’m sure they will,” Self said.