Countdown to 2015–16: Chris Hass, one of the country’s best scorers, wants to lead Bucknell back to the Big Dance

Photos courtesy of Marc Hagemeier

This past summer, Chris Hass participated in an Athletes in Action tour of the Philippines. He was playing alongside Tyler Lewis, of Butler, and Andre Yates, of Cleveland State. Guys he’d seen starring on TV. “Coming from a small school, you don’t really get that much respect,” says Hass, a 6–5, 184 pound Bucknell senior guard, “but seeing that I could not only play with these guys, but contribute in a consistent manner, was huge.”

The word continues to get out about Hass, who burst onto the scene last November, when he poured in 32 points in a narrow loss at Villanova. Jay Wright, the Wildcats coach and a Bucknell alum, hailed Hass’s performance. “They continued to find ways to use him effectively,” Wright said.

Dave Paulsen, Bucknell’s coach, (now the coach at George Mason — he was replaced by Nathan Davis, a former assistant on his Bison staff, this past April), had a prophetic take: “He’s probably going to be the number one guy on scouting reports, now.”

Hass saw the response immediately from opposing defenses. Where once there had been that welcome glimmer of space, when he’d pop up on the perimeter off of stagger screens, defenders now hedged hard, looking to take away his shot. They wanted to get into his head, too.

Unfortunately for them, Hass was well-equipped to face this particular challenge. Mental resilience has become a calling card.

He could hearken back to the start of his career at Bucknell, which had been anything but a breeze. At Pellston High, in his eponymous Michigan hometown, Hass had been a sensation, scoring 2,522 points — the third-highest tally in state prep history.

He says he came into college with a certain type of swagger, borne from so much success. It didn’t take long for a cold dose of reality to be thrown upon him, in the form of just 47 minutes played his entire freshman season. “I was a liability, defensively,” Hass says. “That’s why I wasn’t playing.”

In hindsight, Hass would have liked a redshirt, but Patriot League guidelines only allow for them to be given for medical circumstances. So, Hass made the most of that first year. He poured himself into practice reps, determined to improve his positional awareness and overall defensive makeup.

There was an opportunity to be seized. That ‘12–13 Bison team, which finished 28–6 with an NCAA tournament appearance, had all-time greats in Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers at guard. So, Hass continually picked their brains.

“I learned so much in the way they approached the game,” says Hass. “Out of high school, you’re an immature kid who’s used to being the best at basketball. That was my approach, when I got here, but you soon realize you’ve gotta change. You’ve gotta come with ‘it’ every single day. I was a liability on defense, so I went under (Johnson’s and Ayers’s) wings, and they pushed me.”

As a sophomore, Hass played just 17 total minutes in the Bison’s first two games of the season, on the road against Stanford and Penn State. But he got his chance in the next game against St. Francis (Pa.), and produced a solid 10 points, on 4-of-6 shooting, alongside four rebounds in a big win.

From that point, he has flown. Sophomore year ended with third-team Patriot League honors. “I was more mature, and I made the most of my opportunity,” says Hass. “I knew by then that you not only have to play at a higher level — you have to do it consistently.”

Junior year resulted in Hass averaging 16.0 points — third best in the Patriot League. In addition to adding 3.3 rebounds, he hit 43% of his field goals, and nailed 82 threes at a 40% clip. Three days before ‘that’ Villanova game, he had 21 in a homecoming at Michigan. On Dec. 22, he posted 26 at Wake Forest, on the strength of 10-of-1o at the line. He’d match his 32-point career high in a Patriot League tournament opening round overtime win against Holy Cross.

When Hass fields a phone call from Alley Whoops, midway through a mild and sunny day in early fall, he’s just out of class, walking across campus. He reminisces upon the reason he picked this small school in Lewisburg, Pa. — the special combination he’d seen. Bucknell had established itself as one of the country’s preeminent “mid-majors”, that eternally cumbersome label applied to a successful program of a certain size. In Bucknell’s case, a team that has made four NCAA tournament appearances in the past 10 years.

This season, there is promise to get back to that stage. In ‘14–15, Bucknell won seven of its last 10 games and seized the conference title with a 71–69 win over American on the final day of the regular season. Three freshmen, Stephen Brown, Zach Thomas, and Nana Foulland, accounted for 50 starts.

By the season finale, that freshmen trio rounded out the starting lineup alongside Hass and fellow junior guard Ryan Frazier. That experience pervades a strong and resilient core that Hass will headline. Like Hass, Brown took an Athletes in Action trip this summer, to Colombia. Says Hass, “Stephen knows how to lead a team, on and off the court.”

The last time Hass felt a similar buzz on campus, he was a freshman on that Mike Muscala-led team. “As a senior, now, I have to take the lead and make sure we don’t let the buzz get to our heads,” says Hass. “This is an opportunity. We have to learn to run with it.

“Last year, we were up by 1 on Villanova, which was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, with less than 2 minutes to go. We know we can play with anybody — but we also know we can lose to anybody, if we don’t play to our potential. Consistency is going to be the key.”

Take it from a kid who knows first-hand the importance that particular virtue plays in becoming great.

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops