Surviving life’s tests

Surviving life’s tests

Life and basketball have been a roller-coaster ride for former IU standout Kirk Haston

By Lynn Houser, Herald-Times Sports Writer

February 13, 2007

Indiana’s Kirk Haston battles Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy (left) for control of the ball as the Hoosiers’ Jeff Newton looks on during a game on Nov. 30, 1999, at Assembly Hall. H-T file photo
From the Feb. 13, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

Kirk Haston is a modern day Job, a man blessed in many ways, yet constantly tested by God.

How else can you explain the exceptional IU basketball career he enjoyed and balance that against the personal setbacks he has endured?

One day his mother is his biggest fan, the next he is burying her well before her time.

One day he is hitting a last-second jumper to shock the nation’s top-ranked team, the next his team is reeling from a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament.

One day he is playing for Bob Knight, the next he is wondering who his next coach will be.

One day he is a first-round draft pick and the next he is fifth on the depth chart.

One day he is watching his alma mater playing in the Final Four and the next he is pondering, “What if?”

All those things, the good and the bad, have happened to Kirk Haston.

From 1998-2001, he was as good a big man as there was in the Big Ten. At 6-foot-10 with one of the sweetest hook shots you ever saw, he was a throwback to an earlier generation.

He was a smart player, too. He had a great up-and-under move and used it wisely, often getting opposing forwards into foul trouble.

But unlike the centers of old, Haston could step well beyond the basket and shoot it. It was his 3-pointer at the horn that beat No. 1 Michigan State in 2001, the only time IU has beaten a No. 1 at Assembly Hall. Haston almost didn’t live to talk about it.

“The first thing I knew, (Jarrad) Odle and (Tom) Coverdale tackled me, then about 2,000 fans tackled them,” Haston said over the phone last week. “I couldn’t stand up. The next thing I see is Coverdale with his red hair and elbows flying, clearing out people like (Brian) Urlacher.”

It didn’t sink in until Haston saw it on the highlight reels later that night.

“It didn’t resonate until about midnight,” he said. “This will be one of those tapes you hang on to and make sure your kids watch some day.”

Haston had a lot of highlight moments over a three-year career in which he collected 1,406 points (18th all-time at IU) and 748 rebounds (9th). He had 29 career double-doubles (10th).

He made All-Big Ten and third team All-American his junior year, prompting him to leave early for the NBA draft. It appeared to be a wise decision when Charlotte made him the 16th pick, but days before the season started the Hornets traded for three more forwards.

“All of a sudden I went from the second forward to the fifth,” Haston said.

Between a glut of forwards and lower back injury, Haston did not see much playing time. He was starting to wonder if he had acted in haste when he left IU.

It really hit home on one night in Indianapolis, when Charlotte visited the Indiana Pacers. The Hornets flew in the night before. Haston went out to dinner and caught the telecast of Indiana playing Kent State for a spot in the Final Four. Had Haston stayed, he would have been cutting down the nets with the Hoosiers that night.

“It was a heartbreaking thing for me, something I wanted my whole life – to be in that stage in that situation,” he said. “That night back in my hotel was a very depressing situation, the perfect storm.”

But Haston had learned to weather storms greater than that.

In the spring of 1999, his mother, Patti, perished in a tornado that swept through middle Tennessee. She not only was his biggest fan, but also the biggest influence in his life. He is still living in the home she made for him in Lobelville.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about her lately,” he said. “Growing up in that house and the environment she gave me, I always pray I am as good a parent to my children as she was to me.”

One of the people who rallied to Haston’s side was Knight, who still has a place in Haston’s heart. When Knight was abruptly fired in the fall of 2000, Haston was hedging on whether to stay at IU or finish his career somewhere else.

He chose to stay and wound up having a sensational junior year under new head coach Mike Davis. But after the Hoosiers lost to Kent State in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament, Haston felt it was time to test the NBA waters.

Haston still wonders if it was the right decision. Although he was drafted in the first round and got a healthy three-year contract out of it, he still looks up and see the great “what if?’ in the sky.

“The first year was tough – I’m not going to lie about it,” he said. “It was so tough thinking about the opportunity I left behind. For the first couple of years I had a hard time watching the tournaments.”

Between injuries and limited playing time, Haston was out of the NBA in two years.

Being out of basketball was another test of Haston’s very strong faith, but it was during that time he met a young woman named Kasey, a pretty good high school basketball player in her own day. Two years later they were married.

“Even your worst moments can turn golden,” said Haston, who is now selling real estate and serving as an assistant coach for his old high school team, Perry County. He breaks down film and works with the post players.

“I’m hoping there is another sky hook somewhere down the line in middle Tennessee,” he said.

Does Haston see himself as a head coach some day?

“I kind of like being behind the scenes right now, but with each passing month I’m getting more of an itch. I didn’t realize when Coach Knight made us watch three, four hours of video that I would actually enjoy doing it some day.”