No question, Haase has earned an NBA shot |

No question, Haase has earned an NBA shot

Steve Yingling

Jerod Haase’s candidacy for today’s NBA Draft in Charlotte, N.C., isn’t that shocking to the players and coach who started organized basketball with him.

As a fourth-grader at Al Tahoe Elementary School, Haase didn’t waste any time becoming the city’s premier youth basketball player. Grouped with future Nevada state championship team members Austin Price, Jan Rasmussen and Robert Arana, Al Tahoe ruled the hardwood for three glorious years.

“Jerod was even amazing back then, dribbling behind his back with either hand before people could dribble with either hand,” said Rasmussen, Haase’s teammate from the fourth through 12th grades. “When he wanted to score he could, but he has always been an unselfish player.

“It was a lot of fun back then because we were always better than everybody else and we kind of did our own thing.”

Rasmussen’s father, Gene, served as the team’s coach during Al Tahoe’s three-year reign. When Gene watched Haase play, he realized that his basketball destiny wouldn’t end in high school.

“Jerod was doing things way back in the fourth and fifth grades that many seventh- and eighth-graders couldn’t do. He wanted the ball, and he was always prepared to take the shot with the game on the line,” Gene said. “And all the great qualities he has – gentlemanly, athletic skill and competitiveness – they were apparent in grade school. I thought if he gave his best and his play evolved in the same fashion, he be a Division I player someday.”

Al Tahoe’s chief competition came from Meyers Elementary School, which contained Haase’s future STHS teammates Brian Bruso and Lenny Costa.

“They were our big competition, but they never beat us,” Gene said.

Looking for tougher competition, Gene occasionally took his talented cagers off the hill to Reno and Sacramento. During a one-point setback to Goethe of Sacramento, Haase revealed the one aspect of competition that has troubled him during his basketball career – internalizing defeat.

“Time was running out and Jerod got the ball and his shot didn’t go in. He was absolutely unconsolable after the game. I tried to console him, but I’m not sure he heard what I had to say. But at the same time, he hit an awful lot of winning shots, too,” Gene said.

But those tough defeats also made Haase a better player, Jan says.

“He always had a competitive spirit and the drive to win, which you need to have at that level, and when you don’t win, you figure out what it’s going to take to get that victory,” Jan said. “He would always go home and work real hard on his game. He has great athletic ability, but he always worked so much harder than everybody else.”

But home provided Haase with much more than an outdoor basketball hoop.

“Gary, Carol and his siblings were all totally supportive of him at every level and tried to make every game Jerod played,” Gene said.

When Al Tahoe’s and Meyers’ best joined forces at South Tahoe High School, the impact of playing basketball together for so long paid large dividends. The Vikings made consecutive Nevada state title appearances in 1991 and 1992, beating Western of Las Vegas during Haase’s senior season.

“We had been playing together for so long we knew the ins and outs of each other. It was kind of like telepathy, I guess. We knew where each other was going to be at all times,” Jan said.

Among Haase’s toughest career defeats were to Western in the 1991 state championship game, to Syracuse in the 1996 NCAA Western Regional finals and to NCAA champion Arizona in the sweet 16 round last spring.

“In high school I always took losses harder than anybody. Now I can let them go,” Haase said.

Haase’s distaste of losing has become more tolerable as basketball has evolved into a business for him.

“I enjoy the competition as much as ever, the camaraderie and the friendships, but the actual game I wouldn’t say it’s as passionate as it was in the second grade.

“Basketball at Kansas was not pure basketball. You have to do interviews, autographs and charity things. All of those things are great and I enjoy all of them, but it’s not going out by yourself in the snow and playing basketball like I did in Tahoe. I did that because I loved to do it.

“At Kansas, if you don’t feel like playing play basketball one day, you’re still going to play. If you don’t want to sign autographs, you still should sign that autograph. There’s baggage that goes with it, and I love it, but it’s also overwhelming at times.”

Whether Haase is drafted today means little in the larger picture of life, according to his longtime basketball pals.

“He’s a product of the program and the community, and it’s a feather in everyone’s cap. As he goes on, they are going to follow him,” said STHS coach Tom Orlich.

Added Jan, “I always knew he’d be successful. He’s such a good person, too, and hasn’t gotten a big head. You talk to him today and he is same person he was back then.”

If the NBA doesn’t pan out for Haase, Gene thinks his former star has a prestigious job waiting for him in Kansas.

“If anything else, Jerod can go back and be the governor of Kansas,” he said.

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