CHAPEL HILL — If Jerod Haase ever needed a reminder that he was no longer at North Carolina or Kansas, two of the blue-blood programs of college basketball, he got it at the Omaha airport.
After Haases Alabama-Birmingham team lost at Creighton on Nov. 14, the Blazers were stuck in the airport for more than 12 hours as they waited for their commercial flight home. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks almost always travel by charter. In his first UAB road trip, his first road trip as a head coach, they got to the airport when it was still dark. By the time they left it was dark again.
To be honest, I think that was one of the questions I probably needed to prove if I ever got a job: that I wasnt born with a silver spoon in my mouth, coming from Kansas and North Carolina, Haase said.
Those basketball bloodlines did prepare Haase, 38, for the challenge and will make his return to Chapel Hill with UAB on Saturday all the more emotional. He played for Roy Williams at Kansas before spending 13 years on his staff. He left this spring for the head job at UAB, taking former North Carolina guard Bobby Frasor with him as director of basketball operations.
He also brought a blueprint for running a program, some of it written down in a notebook, most of it absorbed over years on Williams staff. Its less about a playing style than it is everything else: the way practices are run, the way time is scheduled, the way recruiting is planned and executed. The basketball DNA of his program is the same as the program he left.
Im used to doing things a certain way, seeing things done a certain way, Haase said. The question Im usually asked is how much of the Xs and Os are Carolina, Kansas, Roy, Dean Smith-type stuff. The answer to that is quite a bit of it, but really, the whole program is more than Xs and Os. Its how you conduct your business, how you travel, how you treat players.
Still, the idea is to play the same kind of up-tempo game as North Carolina, but tweaked for the players he inherited. (His first full recruiting class coming in next fall includes two point guards and a wing shooter.) As the junior varsity coach at North Carolina, he had five years to experiment with the Tar Heels schemes a laboratory to see which of his ideas would actually work.
Haase also worked closely with individual players. Senior guard Leslie McDonald went to Haase for help with his shooting form, shot selection and getting open, especially when McDonald was struggling to figure out the offense as a young player.
When I was a freshman, it was hard for me sometimes, McDonald said. Coach Haase had a players perspective, having played for coach Williams. He knew what to expect, what to do.
When his new players watch the Tar Heels, they dont see themselves, not yet. But they understand exactly where hes coming from.
He doesnt really talk about it. Its just kind of understood, said forward Jordan Swing, UABs leading scorer. We know hes a winner. Hes been around big-time programs. He knows how to run things. Its up to us to trust him and trust what hes telling us.
Williams honored that work on Nov. 10, between UNCs games against Gardner-Webb and Florida Atlantic, flying with assistant coach C.B. McGrath to Birmingham on a private jet to watch Haases first game as a head coach, a 105-59 win over Division II Young Harris College.
For Haase, it was a complete surprise. For McGrath, who spent 13 years working beside Haase, it was a chance to see everything they talked about during all those days on the road about what they would do if and when they became head coaches put into practice.
We looked forward to enjoying the little things, instead of worry about playing for a Final Four and national championship, McGrath said. Everyone wants to, but not everybody can. At a school where thats not necessarily your main goal, you can enjoy the process a little more, enjoy the small little victories.
After the Blazers won at Troy on Tuesday to move to 4-3, Haase texted McGrath about how great it felt.
One of the things about a job like this, Haase said, is you really appreciate it.
Hell appreciate nothing more than coming back to Chapel Hill, to show how much he learned, to show how much he appreciated the opportunity that led to his chance to go out on his own.
DeCock: 919-829-8947; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @LukeDeCock