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Haase puts lid on hoop career

Michael Traum

Jerod Haase is a bona fide sports legend in South Lake Tahoe. His unrelenting hard work and rejuvenescent personality transcended the game of basketball to make him an icon of the young and old, hoops junky and sporting world passerby.

But after today, fans will have to look at video tapes or copies of old newspapers to experience his ability as a player.

Haase as decided to retire from playing competitive basketball. Citing a nagging right wrist injury as the main reason, Haase will pursue coaching and business interests in Kansas and South Lake Tahoe.

“I’m done playing basketball. It’s time to go on to something else,” said Haase, 24, on Wednesday.

At the heart of the decision is Haase’s injured shooting wrist. It originally occurred during the first game of his senior year against Santa Clara, ironically the only game many South Lake Tahoe fans were able to see live. After the first round of X-rays returned negative, he opted to continue playing. But the pain heightened while his ability to produce ebbed. Eventually, Haase spent the majority of the team’s final game, a loss to Arizona in the NCAA tournament, relegated to the bench as a cheerleader. Postseason surgery followed, but Haase admits pushing himself back into playing shape too quickly. The wrist didn’t heal properly, necessitating a second surgery.

Now, his arm is once again slung in a protective brace, and the repaired scaphoid bone is not responding appropriately. On his doctor’s advice and a good dose of soul-searching, Haase made his decision.

“If I continued to play right now, I’d essentially trash the wrist and have trouble doing things later in life,” Haase said.

Haase’s career highlights read like a Greek tragedy. The highs: As a shooting guard included winning a state championship with South Tahoe in 1992 and competing in four NCAA tournaments with California and Kansas, starting alongside future NBA players Jason Kidd and Jacque Vaughn. The lows: Never competing in the NCAA championship game, despite playing for the 1996-97 team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the year, and not fulfilling his professional dreams.

Still, Haase qualifies the entirety of the experience as one of great memories and undeniable fortune.

“I think I’ve provided a lot of excitement and fun times. I know it’s been fun for everybody. Coach Williams says basketball has given a lot to me and I’ve given a lot to basketball. It’s been a nice deal,” he said.

And those moments keep the dream of playing alive, if just barely.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve reached the apex of my playing career. I’ve already had the best. It’s always a possibility the wrist will get better and I’ll try it again. I’m never going to say 100 percent. As a healthy player, I think I can go against anybody. But in my mind I’m done,” he said.

Haase’s decision hit close to home both for his community friends and former high school coach.

“I think an injury is a bad way to stop playing. He’s worked too hard for too long. Personally, I think he deserves better,” said Scott Gilliland, Haase’s best friend and former South Tahoe teammate. “You can’t really go back once you decide to stop playing. But I know he feels lucky to have done what he did. And he’s the best player I’ve ever played with. He was the heart and soul of our (state championship) team and we wouldn’t have done those things without him.”

Tom Orlich, who has coached in three decades at South Tahoe, said Haase was truly a special player.

“I’m sure he wants to play and I thought there would be a place for him in the NBA. But the way he played the game, he really abused his body,” Orlich said. “But he’s got great opportunities to move on to.”

Coming out of college, Haase was projected by some scouting agencies as a potential second-round pick. But draft day went with the phone remaining silent at the Haase residence. Utah Jazz scout David Fredman said despite the no call, Haase was a commodity waiting to be utilized.

“People know who he is and I always liked him,” said Fredman last year. “It’s just a matter of different people’s needs. I can’t see why he wouldn’t get a chance.”

But Utah never called.

Through Kansas connections, Haase eventually received short-lived tryouts with Chicago and Vancouver. He then played briefly in Macedonia before returning to the United States, where his professional aspirations remained constant but opportunities dwindled, due largely to the injured wrist.

The resurfacing knock on Haase, hampered immeasurably by the injury, was his inability to consistently hit the jump shot, according to Jim O’Connell, Associated Press college basketball writer.

“To be honest, when Vaughn was injured (Hasse’s senior year, 10 games), everybody was looking for Jerod to step up, which he really didn’t do,” said O’Connell, a comment Haase rebukes. “(To continue playing) he has to show he has no fear shooting. And he’s the type of player that if he loses even one-quarter of a step, it’s like another guy losing a whole step.”

In retrospect, Haase said he wouldn’t change a single thing about his playing days, other than maybe having immediate surgery on his wrist when it happened during the first game of his senior year instead of waiting until season’s end and playing hurt.

And in the end, he hopes to be remembered simply as a darn-good player who gave everything he had. But more importantly, he hopes the next chapter of his life is worthy of the notoriety that the previous chapter provided.

“When I’m 60 years old, I want people to say I had a passion for things and really went after them. I don’t want to be known as just a basketball player. I honestly think this a small chapter in my life, that I’m going to go on to do some really cool things. My stats as a basketball player are a small part. Who I am and what I stand for, that’s what I want people to remember. And I’m going to go for it.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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