Haase, UAB hope to Blaze new trail in Birmingham

Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Former Jayhawk star and Roy Williams protege Jerod Haase is out to put the UAB Blazers hoops program back on the map.

It's the afternoon before National Signing Day and the focus of the College Sports World is football.

Deep in the heart of SEC country, it's certainly no different. Local reporters gather and talks of tomorrow's events are the focal point. This is after all, the city where the term "Iron Bowl" was invented.

That's when the very mild-mannered Coach arrives. He looks more Clark Kent than Superman. Little do we know.

Jerod Haase was once the heart and soul of Kansas teams that dominated the Big 12. His passion burned then, and it burns now, albeit in a quieter manner.

As he talks about his program, you can feel Haase's quiet confidence. All talk of football subsides as the coach begins to address the media.

"My long-term goal is to be here a long time and build a sustained winner," Haase says. "We want to build from the ground up and win basketball games and do a good job in the community."

Now in his second year at UAB, it seems as though he's at least starting to accomplish all that.

UAB has two potential star players in junior guard Chad Frazier (17.9 ppg 3.5 rpg 4.3 apg) and junior forward C.J. Washington (14.3 ppg 7.6 rpg). Additionally, Haase's recruiting classes are getting better and better, with next season bringing ESPN100 power forward William Lee to Birmingham.

But talent isn't all Haase is after. He's bringing in Virginia Tech transfer Robert Brown, who averaged almost 9.0 points per game last season in the rugged ACC, but not just because of what Brown is capable of doing on the court.

"The kids we have recruited here have a chance to be great kids, and great ambassadors," Haase said. "Robert Brown is a fantastic player, a big time player from the ACC. He really fits in to how I want to play here, which is up tempo and attacking the basket, using balls screens and pressure defense."

Add Brown to Frazier, Washington and Lee, and you have the makings of a team that could make some serious noise next season. But that's a conversation for another day. The ultra0focused coach still has work to do this year.

The 2013-14 season started out promisingly enough. UAB caught the attention of  the college basketball world by defeating one of the sport's elite programs, when they knocked off North Carolina 63-59 on Dec. 1.

The result was surprising, but perhaps it shouldn't have been. Prior to defeating the Tar Heels, UAB had given then No. 19 New Mexico all they could handle in a double overtime thriller at the Charleston Classic. It took late three pointers by the Lobos to force both the first and second OT's in a game UAB could have and should have won.

Winning in their league has been a bigger issue for the Blazers, with UAB dropping four of their first seven games against Conference USA foes.

"Our biggest thing right now is just getting the consistency, with our edge.," Haase said. "Early in the season we had a great edge to us."

Getting that edge back will be a key if UAB hopes to go dancing this March.

If you ask Haase's mentor, the Blazers have the right man in charge to give them that edge. Even after suffering defeat to Haase's Blazers, UNC Head Coach Roy Williams could not hide his affection for the young coach,

"He's just a wonderful young man and he's going to do great things here," Williams said. "I think Jerod Haase, probably more so than any other player I have ever coached, it hurt him to lose so much that I thought it was close to the level that it hurts me. Whenever you have a player that losing hurts as much as the coaches, you've got something special. Luckily we didn't lose very often, but when we did, it was something that really affected him."

Not everyone remembers that Haase was once a Naismith and Wooden candidate, and arguably the best player on Kansas teams (1994-97)  that also featured Jacque Vaughn, Raef Lafrentz, and Paul Pierce. His competitive nature carried him then and carries him now as a coach.

"We're a very good rebounding team," said Haase. "We're a tough minded defensive team. Hopefully we evolve that identity into a team that can compete consistently on a high level."

With Haase at the helm developing talent and molding a team to fit his personality, this now looks like a very attainable goal. Perhaps one day soon they might even capture the attention of the traditionally football dominated state of Alabama.

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