Steph Haas took a seat next to Tavares Jackson on the scorer’s table at The Convo before Ohio’s morning practice on Nov. 27. As other coaches walked around the court waiting for players to come out of the locker room, Haas stood out.
Haas and Jackson are both assistant coaches, but the two sported different looks. Jackson wore sweatpants and a t-shirt, the same look as the other assistant coaches on the floor and the typical look of a coach on a non-gameday.
Haas, however, wore shorts, high-top shoes and a long-sleeve tee. The 25-year-old looked ready to play, not coach, and her attire matched more with what the players donned when they exited the locker room.
That’s because Haas, a first-year assistant coach for coach Bob Boldon, was hired just for that reason. Her ability to relate with, and sometimes even play with, the players made her a great catch for his staff. She’s chill, fun and knowledgeable about the ups and downs of a college basketball player, and she’s what Boldon needed.
“I'm not a screamer,“ Haas said. “I'm probably more hands on. I'm still trying to figure that out. This is my first coaching job, so each day I'm figuring out what works and what doesn't. Just using my experience that I had, what helped me and relaying that to the girls so that they can be the best that they can be.”
Haas’ on-court talents make her unique from Ohio’s other coaches. Her resume isn’t filled with coaching accolades or a sports-related degree, but rather with several accomplishments as a guard for Florida Gulf Coast from 2012-2016.
Her path, which began as a graduate from Magnificat High School and has temporarily stopped in Athens, has been anything but easy.
Haas received few offers to play basketball out of high school and reached out to Florida Gulf Coast only because she had vacationed in Fort Myers. Coach Karl Smesko brought her in as a walk-on and gave her time off the bench her freshman year. Haas had her chance.
Then, her career exploded.
Haas won the Eagles’ Most Improved Player award as a freshman and sophomore and became one of the most impactful players on the team. She became the school’s ninth 1,000 point scorer and finished in its top 10 in points (1,138), field goals (414), free throws made (199) and rebounds (365).
Not bad for a walk-on player.
“They gave me an opportunity to be on the team, and I just ran with that,“ Haas said. “The biggest thing of what I always tell people is you just have to do the little things and continue to work hard. Even if you're not playing at the beginning, if you just keep doing the little things and get a couple minutes here and there, you'll start getting more minutes. So that's what happened with me.”
But Haas is still young and talented, and Boldon, who said he hired Haas after a simple phone call and a recommendation from Smesko, has taken advantage of it. She was wearing shorts and high tops in practice because, well, she’s still playing.
Boldon frequently uses Haas as an extra player in practice. Whether it’s to give players rest or to offer stiffer competition, Haas is his go-to player for extra practice help.
"Especially this year with the way we've had a limited number of players to practice, she's had to step in a few times,“ Boldon said. “It's a lot of the same concepts when she played at FGCU. She's pretty familiar with what we're doing. She's a 1,000-point scorer, so she's capable of stepping in.”
Whenever Haas transitions from coach to player, it forces Ohio’s actual players to step up, focus more on the drill and deal with any pressure that may come from playing against a coach.
But there’s also pressure to be nice. When Gabby Burris plays against Haas, Burris sometimes feels that she may be going too hard against her coach, and she’s sure that Haas has received a few bruises from their one-on-ones.
“We're being really aggressive because every coach wants us to get in there and fight for the rebound,“ Burris said. “But I'll feel bad if I hit Steph so hard or elbow her. I feel like I always give Steph an elbow and I feel so bad. She can take it, and it's really fun playing with Steph."
Whether it’s on or off the court, Haas possesses an aura of comfortability that makes her unique. Yes, players still think of her as a coach, but they have a different kind of relationship with Haas.
She can relate to players in ways that other college coaches cannot, and that’s why she’s already a crucial piece of Ohio’s team after just six months in the program.
“It's good to have someone with that experience, and you can go to her and she comes to you,“ Amani Burke said. “It's not so tense. You can just put your shoulders down a little bit and have a conversation.
“She's more like a mom or a sister. She really cares.”