Former Viking Jerod Haase tips off third season at UAB
In his third season as head coach the University of Alabama at Birmingham men’s basketball team, Jerod Haase has begun to mold the program in the shape he wants. The 2014-15 Blazers are comprised completely of players Haase recruited, a major step in his tenure at UAB.
“We’re trying to build a culture to really sustain long-term success,” the former South Tahoe basketball standout said. “It is important — over time you build close relationships with the guys as you recruit them, and I think that is a crucial thing to have. There’s an increased level of trust and commitment from those guys.”
Haase took over at UAB prior to the 2012-13 season after spending 13 years on as an assistant of legendary coach Roy Williams at North Carolina and Kansas. He has increased the team’s win total in each of his first two seasons, including an 18-13 mark last year — the Blazers tip off their 2014-15 campaign Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.
“As a program, we’re trying to progress. There’s a lot of different pieces to that — certainly one of them is winning basketball games,” Haase said. “We want to advance with that, but I think we’ve done a great job in building a program — and this year we’re trying to continue to develop that.”
Part of that process is developing the personality of the program. Haase said that when people see UAB in action, he wants them to see a team that plays hard and unselfishly — similar to his play as a Viking and during his collegiate career.
“I want us to be fun to watch — we’re going to play fast and we’re also going to be very unselfish. We have a chance to be a very good passing team, have a lot of assists and really share the ball,” Haase said.
“Defensively, I want us to be a tough-minded team. We’ll probably show multiple defenses to try and keep people on their heels a little bit.”
UAB enters the season talented but inexperienced — nine of the Blazers’ 14 players are newcomers, and only one starter returns from last year. Senior forward C.J. Washington started 27 games for UAB in 2013-14, and was the team’s second-leading scorer with 13 points per game.
“In a lot of ways we’re going to ask him to do a fair amount of stuff — but I think there will be a lot of fluctuation in terms of who the leading scorer is going to be, and who we rely on from game to game,” Haase said. “But he’s the only guy that has proven he can produce at a high level at this level.”
Haase’s first recruiting class earned national acclaim, and he said this year’s incoming freshman class might be even better. The six-player class includes 6-foot-9-inch forward William Lee, the reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama.
“That’s a big deal for us — it’s a statement being able to get the top player in the state,” Haase said.
The Blazers got the chance to jell this offseason during a week-long team trip to Spain. UAB played two games in Madrid, went to a Real Madrid soccer match, saw a bullfight and toured a handful of cities while abroad.
“We’re probably ahead of the game because of that foreign tour — I think that will serve us well,” Haase said. “It was awesome. I didn’t know what to expect — the whole trip was a great, great (experience).”
UAB has played a challenging non-conference schedule in each of Haase’s first two seasons — and continues that trend this year. The highlight of the Blazers’ early-season slate is the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 26-28 in the Bahamas, a loaded eight-team event that features major conference powers North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Georgetown, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. UAB tips off against 2014 national semifinalist and preseason No. 3 Badgers — one of three top 10 teams making the trip along with the No. 6 Tar Heels and No. 7 Gators.
“That’s the elite of the elite — some people are calling it one of the best preseason tournaments in the past couple decades,” Haase said. “It’s a high level of talent with some great coaches, some great teams and some great players — it’s going to be a test.”
For the third straight season, the Blazers will play North Carolina — a matchup that has Haase on the opposite bench of his former coach and boss. Haase played for Williams at Kansas from 1994-97 before serving on his coaching staff for a decade — UAB stunned the Tar Heels 63-59 last season in Birmingham.
“It’s a special deal — he’s my mentor in a lot of ways along with coach Orlich at South Tahoe,” Haase said. “To coach against him is special in a lot of ways and tough in a lot of ways — it was an awkward feeling when we did win that game last year.”
UAB begins conference play against Middle Tennessee on Jan. 4 — last season, the Blazers finished seventh in the 16-team Conference USA. The Blazers have the opportunity to play for the conference championship close to home this season — last May, Birmingham was named as the host site for the tournament.
“It’s a lot of work to get to the start of the season,” Haase said. “I think the guys are excited to play against somebody else, and it’s an exciting time of year — we’re ready to go.”
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