Sitting court side during Purdue’s first round game against Vermont, there was some down time watching the players warm up. Nathan Shoup, sports editor for Sparks Tribune, was there to cover a Nevada team that oddly enough had a tie to the Purdue Boilermakers. Once Boiler legacy kid, turned tragic story of unmet expectations, Kendall Stephens had just transferred there, sitting out as per NCAA transfer rules. While chatting pleasantries, he started to ask me about the Purdue team. I told him about a little bit here and there. Cline’s a shooter, Dakota doesn’t make mistakes, and Carsen is the future. I assumed he was familiar with Caleb, who wasn’t?
Then I motioned to a 7 foot 2 inch monster as thick as a redwood. I motioned to my laptop where my twitter account was open. “At some point in this game, Haas is going to take a close lay up, miss it, and my twitter timeline will explode with ‘DUNK THE DAMN BALL, HAAS.” He chuckled a little bit, but not getting the full extent.
Naturally, during the game, Haas grabbed a ball, hesitated for a second and went up with something ‘soft’ and missed. I slid my laptop in front of him. Watched the tweets explode out left and right - DUNK THE DAMN BALL. I JUST WISH HE WOULD PLAY ANGRY. COME ON, HAAS.
He chuckled. The predictability prevented any sort of prophetic feeling. Instead, just disappointment. Not at Haas, but at Purdue fans, basketball fans in general.
Recording the podcast last night, Ledman(jumboheroes) triggered me again. He just wished Haas would play angry. My reply: The Hulk would make a terrible basketball player. I stand by that. You can’t rampage constantly and be successful at the art of basketball. Do I wish he turned a few more bunnies into devastating dunks? Sure, but it’s not as simple as that.
Haas came into Purdue as a giant man who showed surprising touch for a monster. He had legitimate moves to go with all that size. The potential was incredible. But he didn’t really know how to play college basketball. For someone that was doubled constantly, his assist rate was deplorable and he turned the ball over way too much. But he still made over half of his field goal attempts, but he struggled from the free throw line. He only averaged 14.6 minutes a game.
His sophomore year, he actually played less. He averaged just 14.3 minutes per game. But something incredible happened. He got better, in the most important places. He nearly doubled his assist rate while cutting his turnover rate by nearly 7%. He went from being a 55% free throw shooter to a 71% free throw shooter. A trend that he continued to his junior year. The importance of this can’t be stated enough because last year he averaged drawing 7.8 fouls per forty minutes. It was the 9th highest total in the country and the lowest of his career. He actually drew over 8 fouls per 40 his freshman year.
But still, people want anger, they want shattered back boards and him to eat bones. Isaac Haas is a 57% career shooter from the floor. In case you’re wondering, that’s really good. He’s been one of the best post players in the country from the moment he stepped onto Purdue’s campus and has only gotten better each year.
He has never averaged 20 minutes a game.
Against the two best teams Purdue played this year - Villanova and Kansas - Isaac Haas was arguably the best player on the floor at times for both teams. Against Villanova he scored 22 points, a lot of those in clutch time, where Purdue fed the big man over and over again. The defending champs had no chance against him, no answer. He scored lay in after lay in. Against Kansas, before the slaughter took hold, Purdue was actually giving Kansas a game. Haas was too much down low to answer. He was the answer to how Purdue was going to get easy baskets against a team that was too fast for them everywhere.
And yet, Isaac Haas has probably never played one single minute of his career without looking over his shoulder. He spent his first two years at Purdue backing up the best big man in the B10 and defensive player of the year A. J. Hammons. This year, Haas, despite starting early in the year, spent most of the year playing back up center to the National Player of the Year finalist and All-American Caleb Swanigan. Despite possibly being the biggest mismatch in the country, Haas has never been the best center on his own team through no real fault of his own.
Now he is. It’s strange to think of a 7’2” man living in the shadow’s of anyone, but Haas will finally get his chance to find his own spotlight. The center spot is his. The minutes are his.
With Biggie gone, it’s now time for the biggest.
It’s a lot easier to be aggressive when you know the team is yours.