In 1993, Roy Williams led the Kansas Jayhawks to the Final Four, where they would fall to Dean Smith's eventual champion Tar Heels. But the weekend before, Roy's curiosity was piqued by a scrappy young freshman guard from Cal-Berkley, who had helped lead the Golden Bears to a shocking upset of the Grant Hill-Bobby Hurley Duke Blue Devils before losing to the Jayhawks in the Sweet Sixteen.
Roy was hardly the only person wowed by a freshman Cal guard. Everyone in America read the headline that weekend: "Duke 3-Peat KO'ed by a Kidd." But there was a difference. Roy wasn't looking at future superstar Jason Kidd; he was looking at Jerod Haase.
25 years later, it's impossible to say the name Jerod Haase without thinking about Roy Williams. Roy's recruitment of Haase that following summer and his subsequent transfer kickstarted a long story that has led from Lawrence, to Chapel Hill, to Birmingham, and on November 20th to Palo Alto, California.
Haase started for three years at Kansas under Williams, blossoming into a deadly shooter and peerless hustler. Roy has said that of all his players, Haase was the one who seemed to take defeat as hard as he himself did. No one gave more effort than the scrappy guard. During his time there, the Jayhawks began recording stats called Floor Burns, referring to the number of dives for loose balls and charges taken, a tradition that continues in Lawrence today. Haase always won.
He was a captain on the 1997 Jayhawk team that went 34-2 and is generally acknowledged to be Roy's greatest Kansas team. He played the entire season with a broken bone in his shooting wrist, and self-published a book about that season. The title? "Floor Burns."
One year later, Haase was an administrative assistant for Williams, staffing two teams that went to the Final Four. When Roy made his triumphant return to Chapel Hill, Haase went with him, leaving his alma mater and serving as an assistant coach and director of basketball operations. He was on the bench for Roy's first two National Championships.
In 2012, Haase took the head coaching job at Alabama-Birmingham, a Conference USA team regressing under veteran Mike Davis. The UAB Athletic Department pinned its hopes on Haase's youth and hunger driving new life into the Blazers program.
By his third season, despite having the third-youngest team in Division 1, Haase led the Blazers to a Conference USA tournament title. One week later, the 14-seeded youngsters knocked off Iowa State (and ruined a certain writer's bracket). The following year, they posted a 26-5 regular season record and easily won the Conference USA regular season title.
Haase's success at UAB caught the attention of the major conferences and in the spring of 2016, Stanford came calling. The Cardinal had regressed badly over the past decade, making the NCAA tournament just once under head coach and onetime Duke superstar Johnny Dawkins (take three seconds for the obligatory chortle) and were looking to make a change. And so, in one of life's little ironies, the man who started his college career playing at Berkley was headed for Palo Alto. Dawkins out, Haase in.
Haase's first season at Stanford last year was a struggle. The Cardinal lost their best player, Reid Travis, to injury and finished the season 14-17 and 6-12 in the Pac-12. But they return most of their scoring power this year and add a quartet of four-star recruits, Haase's first full class at Stanford. This is a team that could surprise in a Pac-12 that will be considerably weaker than last year's. Hopefully the Cardinal don't surprise on November 20th, when Roy's Boys come to town.
Roy Williams is well-known to schedule non-conference games against his disciples and none have benefitted from this more than Haase. In his first three seasons at UAB, Haase's Blazers squared off against the Heels every year; two games in Chapel Hill and one in Birmingham. Such high-profile non-conference games are invaluable to mid-majors both as a look at top-level competition and also for national exposure. And to win builds morale and a tournament resume. The Blazers' 2013 upset of the Heels was the first signature win for a core of players that would go on to win Conference USA titles and NCAA tournament games.
Stanford needs no such boost; the Cardinal are a team with history, tradition, and, in Haase's eyes, aspirations. The November 20th game will be Carolina's first game against a major conference opponent, one that could make the NCAA Tournament.
The matchup will be a fascinating contrast of styles. Stanford has a top-tier front court with All-Conference power forward Travis, Michael Humphrey, and newcomer Kenzie Okpala. But their backcourt was dismal last year and they are even more inexperienced this year. Carolina is just the opposite, with an army of perimeter and backcourt players and a completely untested front court. There is an expectation that Carolina will play of lot of small ball this coming season. This will be the first real test of that philosophy.
Both teams will be looking for a statement win when the Heels come to Palo Alto. Roy will want to show that the Heels are still a top contender despite the wave of departures from the championship run. Haase will be looking to set the tone for a big season from the Cardinal. The Carolina family, already eager to see the new look of our team, will be rooting on the boys in blue as always.
But we should root for Jerod Haase too. He's a part of UNC's past. And who knows? Maybe he could be part of its future as well.