Kirk Haston

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I began the Quaz interview series six years ago, and over that period I’ve had myriad people try and guess my dream Q&A for this space.

The offered names run the gamut, from Obama and Trump to Michael Jordan and LeBron James. I’ve had people presume I want Joe Biden (liberal Blue Hen), Daryl Hall (Oates was magical No. 66), Celine Dion (her name has appeared in many rapid fires), J.R. Richard, Garry Templeton, Ken Griffey, Sr. (childhood favorites).


Truth be told, my ideal Quaz is … Emmanuel Lewis, the former “Webster” star who vanished from the scene a decade or so ago. Why Webster Papadopoulos? Because he’s quirky, and funky, and non-obvious. His path intrigues me, his journey intrigues me. I’ve read 1,000 stories about all the suggested names. But Emmanuel Lewis? There’s just not a lot out there. And the Quaz is all about learning what’s out there.

I digress.

The magical 300th Quaz is not the elusive Emmanuel Lewis. In fact, it’s sort of Webster’s funhouse mirror opposite.

You might remember Kirk Haston. You might not remember Kirk Haston. Back in the early 2000s he was a star at Indiana University, then was selected in the first round by the Charlotte Hornets. His NBA career lasted but two seasons, yet he is—truly—a kick-ass Quaz.  First, I covered Haston in high school. Second, he has a Coolio story. Third, he’s faced genuine tragedy, but addresses it with profound beauty. Fourth, he can tell you what Bobby Knight’s sweater smells of. And fifth, we’re kicking off March Madness, and what better way to begin than with a Quaz who walked the walk?

So today, I bring you Kirk as my 300th offering. You can follow him on Twitter here to learn about his career, his family and his day job coaching high school hoops. Also, click on the link to order his new book, “Days of Knight: How the General Changed My Life.” 

Kirk Haston, you are the Hornets’ 156th all-time leading scorer.

But you are Quaz No. 300 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So having attended the University of Delaware, and being there (and covering) two teams that lost, as expected, in the first round of the tournament, I’ve often wondered what it is to be favored and lose. So … Kirk, in 2001 your Indiana Hoosiers were a four seed facing Kent State in the West Regional—and you lost. And, with that, your season ends, everything goes quiet, you return to campus. I know it’s an ugly memory, but what is that like? How does one digest it? How long does it take to move on? And what, in hindsight, went wrong?

KIRK HASTON: It’s pretty rough when the two toughest losses of your college career are in back-to-back games. My toughest loss to get over was the Big Ten Tournament championship game vs Iowa and then the next toughest loss was the very next game versus Kent State. We had a hard time that season guarding small guards; we matched up much better versus bigger guards, but small, quick guards gave us issues and that was a big part of our downfall in both of those games. In the Iowa game, two guards under six-feet—Brody Boyd and Dean Oliver—combined for 34 points  and were the only two in double figures. Boyd, who only averaged 5.8 ppg for that season, scored 22 points in that championship game. Then in the Kent State game, a six-foot guard, Trevor Huffman, destroyed us. He scored 24 points in the game, including 11 of their final 15 points. There is only one team a year that leaves the court winning its last game played, so if you play long enough you learn how to deal with what the ends of seasons feel like. To me, the hurt almost always feels the same at the end of the season, even today as a high school coach. But the fact that it hurts that much at the end of the season just signifies that it meant a lot to you to begin with. Which is a good thing.

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J.P.: You’re the author of “Days of Knight: How the General Changed My Life.” Now, from afar I never much cared for Bobby Knight. Actually, he sort of reminds me a little of Donald Trump—the bombast, the insults. What do people (like me) miss from afar?

K.H.: Yes, I wrote a book about Coach Knight that slants to the positive … but that was what my experience was playing for the man. In my three years with Coach Knight I would say that I understood the reasoning behind 90 percent what he said and did in the locker room and in practices and that there was about 10 percent that probably didn’t do anyone any good—which I’d say is probably a fair ratio for most coaches.

I’m a high school coach now and if one of my players said that I made good points 90 percent of the time I’d be thrilled. One of the frustrating things for former Knight players, though, is that 99 percent of the media coverage and spin is all about that 10 percent of negative and very little of it ever touches the 90 percent of good. I hope my book can be seen as an honest look from within the walls of Assembly Hall at a coach who was a complicated man with faults that have constantly been pointed out while his positives have been left by the wayside.

J.P.: How did this happen to you? Like, when did you first realize, “Dang, I’m REALLY good at basketball”? Was there a moment? A spark? A lightbulb?

K.H.: I was by no means a kid who was thought of as player who would someday play in the Big Ten. I was always tall, but I was a bit of a late bloomer athletically. I was a sophomore and 6-foot-7 before I ever even got my first dunk. Between by sophomore and junior year I put in hours of work to get my legs and game stronger. Toward the beginning of my junior year at Perry County High School we were playing a road game versus a school that was three times as large as we were. I cut toward the basket on the right baseline and our point guard threw a lob toward the rim. The pass was behind me, but I reached back and caught it with my left hand and was able to finish the play with a dunk. I think that was one of the moments that made me feel like I was getting closer to reaching that next level as a high school recruit.

J.P.: You were the No. 16 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, and I’m curious—what is it to be an NBA rookie? What I mean is, is it glamorous? Frustrating? Do veterans treat you kindly? Like crap? Was that a fun year for you? A frustrating one?

K.H.: My rookie season was tough.  It’s almost better for a rookie to start off on a bad team that isn’t in the hunt for the playoffs so to get more game opportunities. The Hornets were a playoff level team which meant there weren’t going to be a lot of meaningless games in which they could throw their young players out into in order to get some game experience since every game was crucial to playoff positioning (In my rookie season I never played double-digit minutes in back-to-back games.)

But I still came in with high expectations of what I would be able to do in my first year with Charlotte, since I was one of only a few forwards on the team. We had Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown, who I knew I’d be playing behind. But I felt like there were plenty of substitution minutes to be had at the forward spot. That is, until the Hornets traded center Derrick Coleman (who, by the way, was the only vet on the team who behaved as a bit of a tool to our rookie class) for George Lynch, Robert “Tractor” Traylor and Jerome Moiso. Nothing like having three extra veteran forwards added to the roster a week before the season starts. Paul Silas, the Hornets coach, loved veteran players, so going from third to sixth on the depth chart of a playoff team helped make it a long rookie year.

With Jerome Moiso.
With Jerome Moiso.

J.P.: Along those lines, I’ve often wondered what it’s like for a guy to leave college early, then spend his days sitting on an NBA bench. Like, did you regret the decision? Was it torturous, watching Indiana from afar as the team went on a Final Four run? Did you regret it? Do you regret it?

K.H.: In my heart I wanted to stay at Indiana for my last year, but in my mind I knew that declaring for the draft was the right thing for me and my family. Since I had redshirted I had already been at IU for four years and was all set to graduate, plus the longer you stay in college the more the pro scouts tend to overanalyze you to the point that you become a plummeting prospect stock. I was pragmatic enough at the time to realize that when you are someone who is not tremendously gifted athletically, but was coming off an All-American season, and was healthy, and had a really good NBA pre-draft camp … well, you had better take advantage of all of those criteria lining up at one time because you’re never guaranteed all of those things will ever line up again.

J.P.: So you were at Indiana when Bobby Knight was fired. In the heat of moments, everything is fiery, hostile, confusing, etc. Looking back, do you see the events differently than you did as a 19- … 20-year-old? Do you feel like there was a definitive right v. a definitive wrong?

K.H.: The No. 1 thing that still bothers me was that the administrators at the time had the chance the night before in our own locker room to tell all of the players that a decision had been made to fire Coach Knight. But that night they told us “no decision has been made.”  Then the next Sunday morning we find out they’ve called Coach Knight and told him he was fired.  Then the same administrators that wouldn’t talk to us straight the evening before wanted all of the players out there for display at the press conference the next day to announce the firing.  Looking back, if I had one mulligan, it would have been to never have agreed to go to that ridiculous press conference.

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J.P.: You’re 6-9—wonderful for basketball. But now that you no longer play, how do you feel about being so tall? Is it annoying? Can you fly coach? Do you get asked, “Hey, you play basketball?” at least 100 times per day? 

K.H.: You’d think when you’re 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, and wear a size 18 shoe, that would mean that people would be less apt to want to talk to you. But in actuality it’s the exact opposite. It’s odd the types of questions people feel comfortable asking, such as, “How tall are your parents?” and “Do you have to special order your bed?” and “Do your shoes cost more because they have more leather?”  Once I even got asked where I order my pants from. Could you imagine if I just turned around to the person in line behind me at a Wal-Mart checkout and asked them where they got their pants and if they slept in a special bed? They’d probably call over the elderly Wal-Mart greeter guy to escort me out of the store!

J.P.: Greatest moment of your basketball career? Lowest?

K.H.: Greatest: Going 37-0 and winning a state title my senior year after losing by one point in the state title game the season before (The Michigan St. game winner is a very close second place though!)

Lowest: Losing the Big Ten title game to Iowa in the 2000-01 season. We had knocked off the No. 1 seed, Illinois, in the semifinals but couldn’t seal the deal in the next game.

J.P.: This is so horrifically sad, but in 1999 your mother Patti was killed when a tornado destroyed a friend’s house in Linden, Tenn. She was an elementary school teacher; you were her only child. Kirk, at the risk of sounding simplistic, how were you—a college freshman at the time—able to move forward after such a tragedy? Was it hard taking basketball seriously? Hard focusing on … life? And, if you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear about your mother. Who was she? What was she like?

K.H.: It’s hard to come up with the adjectives to describe how close my mom and I were, none of them seem to do it justice. The best way I can try to convey what it was like to have someone like her as a mom is to pass along a brief story of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving. The year before she died, my teammates and I were coming back from the Maui Invitational. We flew back and landed back in Indiana on the night of Thanksgiving Day. My mom didn’t want me to spend Thanksgiving in my apartment by myself, so she surprised me and drove up 350 miles by herself and had Burger King hamburgers waiting for me at the apartment when I got back to Bloomington. So we ate burgers and fries and watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. It couldn’t have been a better way to celebrate that particular holiday. That was the last Thanksgiving I got to spend with my mom. She passed away six months later.  It’s also, to this day, the last time I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life.


J.P.: I used to cover Major League Baseball, and it always seemed like the difference between a Ken Griffey, Jr. and a journeyman fifth outfielder was quite slim. A second faster swing, or 10 pounds more muscle, etc. Is it the same in hoops? What I mean is, in 2002 Tracy McGrady, Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, Shareed Abdur-Rahin all had huge years while you did not. So, what’s the difference between guys who have those sorts of careers, and a guy like yourself who was in the league for a brief span? Is it mainly talent? Health? Opportunity? And did you feel like, had things turned differently, you could have been a star?

K.H.: I don’t think I ever could have been a star in the NBA. It usually takes a combination of elite level athleticism mixed with good to great skills. Or, in the rare cases like Larry Bird, average athleticism with elite level skills. I do think I was capable of having a career that was in the neighborhood of six-to-eight years with career averages in the 8-10 ppg range and 6-8 rpg range. After I was cut from the Hornets I went to the NBDL and averaged 16 ppg and 8 rpg.  I know the “D-League” competition level isn’t what it is in the NBA, but I know that year in the NBDL also showed that I just didn’t go to the NBA and “lose” my ability to play the game. All sports success is a combination of hard work, timing, health, opportunity and coaching. I was very blessed to have hit the jackpot on most of those in high school, college and in the NBDL … I just didn’t happen to hit it when I played for the Hornets.

J.P.: You once hung out with Coolio. Explain …

K.H.: We were in Phoenix to play the Suns my rookie season. My teammate, Bryce Drew, and I stayed after our morning team shoot-around to get some extra shooting in at the arena. Our game started at like that evening, then right after our game against the Suns there was going to be a celebrity basketball game that involved—you guessed it—Mr. Gangsta Paradise himself, Coolio.

As Bryce and I were in the empty arena working out, Coolio came in to get some pregame work in also. We all talked for a bit and just hung out there on the Suns’ court for awhile. The real payoff for this encounter came a few hours later though. I hadn’t told any of my teammates that I had bumped into Coolio earlier in the day, so imagine the looks on the faces of Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown as we are leaving the floor after our game and walk by the celebrities waiting to take the court and Coolio reaches out and gives me—of all people on the team—the good ol’ half five, half hug as we go to our locker room.

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• Five reasons one should make Lobelville, Tenn. His/her next vacation destination: How about three? 1. The Buffalo River: rock bottom, clear water, good fishing, good swimming, and it’s where Coach Knight accidentally got thrown overboard while on a fishing trip while visiting my hometown in 1999; 2. The Buffalo River Country Club: It’s definitely no Augusta National, but it has great golf tourneys and even better folks to play with and against; 3. Hunting: some of the best deer and turkey hunting you will find in the area.

• How did you meet your wife?: I was driving to the gym to work out at college campus near my hometown in Tennessee and I saw her walking across the parking lot. I stopped, rolled down my window, said hello, and asked her if she’d like to go out sometime. I figured that if she said “no,” at least I was in my truck with the motor running and could make a quick getaway.  Luckily, she said yes.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jarrad Odle, Margot Robbie, Robert’s Western World, Eldridge Recasner, ear wax, the number 902, flying coach, Viola Davis, rap music, your left ear: Wow … just wow. Well, here goes nothing: 1. Margot Robbie (no explanation needed); 2. The number 902: because it’s probably close to the amount of times I’ve watched JawsGhostbustersThe Godfather and Back to the Future combined; 3. Jarrad Odle: Blunt friends are hard to find, when you do find them be happy they’re on your side; 4. Eldridge Recasner: Anyone who once played for the Presto Ice Cream Kings has to be in this top 5; 5. Viola Davis: In one of the rare, good Shia LeBeouf movies, Disturbia; 6. Rap Music: My friendship with Coolio says it all; 7. Ear wax: Is there any other product like the Q-tip in which one of the main reasons it’s purchased and used (to clean out ears) is actually not what it is recommended to be used for?; 8. My left ear: it sticks out too far and catches too much wind which leads to ear aches; 9. Robert’s Western World: I’m not a drinker, nor a liker of fried bologna so I’m out on RWW; 9. Flying coach: flying period actually.  I’m not afraid to fly, just afraid of what my knees feel like after having the seat in front of me lean back into them for two hours.  Exit rows for folks over 6-foor-5 is a must.

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Lee Nailon?: That, along with what will happen with our nation’s healthcare program, does seem to be some of the most pressing questions these days. Let’s just say this—there is a story that involves him, a plane, Canadian customs and a dog that should be told some day … but not now.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but there were times after Big Ten road game losses that I thought I might get thrown off the plane because of how badly I’d played defense. (Before there is an Indy Star or ESPN investigation, let me say that I’m only kidding.)

• Five all-time greatest players you stood alongside on a basketball court?: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Johnson, Tim Duncan

• What does Bobby Knight’s red sweater smell like?: Doughnuts and Boilermaker tears

• You have three kids. What’s your go-to parenting move if they’re all upset?: “Time to watch old YouTube highlights of your dad playing at IU!” … puts them to sleep every time.

• Five coolest NBA uniforms? Five ugliest?: Coolest—Lakers, Spurs, Bulls, Thunder, Sixers; Ugliest—Raptors, Hawks, Bucks, Rockets, Kings.

• One question you would ask Donna Reed were she here right now: What did you think of how bad Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty botched the end of the Oscars?