Basketball loses lifelong star, Walt Hazzard

In this 1962 file photo, UCLA basketball guard Walt Hazzard, poses under a net. — AP PHOTO, FILE

Walt Hazzard was one of the greatest basketball players to ever play in this town. Hazzard, 69, former Overbrook High, UCLA and NBA standout, passed away last Friday afternoon.

Hazzard was a great basketball player, but also a tremendous person. His family, friends and colleagues will never forget him. He leaves an outstanding legacy. Wali Jones was one of his good friends and teammates.

During Hazzard’s scholastic career, he helped Overbrook compile an amazing 89-3 record. Jones remembers those days as well as Hazzard’s basketball talents. He honored him and another former Overbrook High basketball star, Michael Jordan, at the Bobby Jones Memorial Basketball Clinic on June 5, 2010. The event took place at the Carousel House in Fairmount Park.

“That was a special day for him,” Jones said. “He had such a good time that whole weekend in Philly. He saw so many people he knew for years. They all came out to see him as well as Michael Jordan. But Hazz hadn’t been back to the city for a long and coming back to Philly was really nice for him.

“We’re going to really miss him. It’s good to be able to look back on some of the things he did over the years. We had some great teams at Overbrook with Ralph Heyward and all the guys. Our families were really close. We helped each other. We set goals together. It was always Walt the Wizzard and Wali Wonder. It was nice to be able to recognize him at the Bobby Jones Memorial Basketball Clinic. This is something that Walt used to do with the Los Angeles Sports Academy in LA.”

Ken Hamilton, former Ben Franklin High head basketball coach and Cheyney University Hall of Famer, participated in a number of clinics with Hazzard in Los Angeles. Hamilton was impressed with the way Hazzard used basketball as a tool to make life better for a lot of people.

“He was a trailblazer,” Hamilton said. “He brought the East Coast to the West Coast. I used to tease him about being older than me. He was only three days older than me. But Walt was like a mentor to me. He was in the forefront of basketball. He was involved with African-American Athletes in Action. Then after that, he was involved in Athletes in Action.

“He started the Los Angeles Sports Academy in Compton (inner city section of Los Angeles). Wali and I worked with Walt out there. The kids would come to the school after school, but they had to do their homework before they could play basketball.

“He also had summer camps. I remember that when he coached at Compton College. He had Norm Nixon, Kiki Vandeweghe, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speak at his camps to the kids. We had a lot of people who came out, too.”

Hazzard won two city championships in high school. The 1960 Philadelphia Player of the Year, he received All-America recognition as a senior and was the captain of the track and baseball teams. He won the city crown in the high jump and was the student body president.

He transferred to UCLA after spending one year (1960–61) at Santa Monica College. He played for legendary head coach John Wooden. In 1961–62, he averaged 13.2 points a game for the Bruins. He dazzled the fans with his ballhandling and passing skills in sophomore year.

UCLA won 14 of 18 games to advance to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history. That year UCLA lost to Cincinnati the eventual NCAA champion by two points and dropped a two-point decision to Wake Forest in the consolation game.

In his junior year, he earned All-America honors from several organizations, including the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He averaged 16.3 points a game. UCLA won 20 games for the first time since 1957, tying Stanford for the AAWU title and winning a playoff.

In his senior year, he led UCLA to a national championship. He averaged 18.6 points a game. He earned consensus All-America honors and was named college basketball’s Player of the Year. He averaged 19.8 points in his four NCAA games, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

During his college career, he guided the Bruins to a sensational 68-20 record, two Final Fours and their first NCAA title. He scored 1,401 career points and still ranks 25th on the UCLA all-time list.

In 1964, Hazzard played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He won a gold medal in Tokyo.

After that, he became a first round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, he played 724 regular-season games and averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 assists during his 10-year career with Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo and Golden State.

Six times during the NBA career, he was rated among the league’s top 10 assist leaders. His best year was 1968 with Seattle, when he averaged 23.9 points and 6.2 assists per game. He also played in the NBA all-star game.

Following his NBA career, he became the head basketball coach at Compton College prior to the 1980–81 season and, in two years, compiled a 53-9 record and landed in the California state junior college championship game once. He also coached at Chapman College in Orange County prior to the 1982–83 seasons.

In two years, he put together a 43-16 record and twice advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs, reaching the West Regional championship game in 1983.

In 1984, he became head coach at UCLA. During his four years, the Bruins were 77-47. In 1985, they won 12 of their last 13 games, including the final eight, to win the school’s first National Invitational Tournament (NIT) championship. In 1987, UCLA won the Pac-10 title and first-ever Pac-10 postseason tournament, reached the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished with a 25-7 record. Hazzard was named Coach of the Year.

Andre McCarter, ex-Overbrook High, UCLA and NBA player, was one of Hazzard’s assistant coaches. Ironically, Hazzard played on Wooden’s first NCAA championship team (1964) and McCarter played on his last (1975).

“Walt had an amazing career,” McCarter said. “He was successful on every level. He won a national championship as a player. He won a gold medal. He was a first round draft pick. He coached at his alma mater. He did it all.

“I remember when we won the NIT. That was really something at that time. We beat Louisville for the championship. They had a great coach in Denny Crum. We also beat Indiana and they had head coach Bobby Knight. That was a good run for us.”

Hazzard coached Jerome “Pooh” Richardson, former Ben Franklin High All-American, at UCLA. Richardson grew up in the Sonny Hill League. UCLA played Temple in McGonigle Hall during the 1986–87 season.

“That was a big game for all of us,” McCarter said. “We were all coming back to Philly. The big thing was playing the game at McGonigle Hall. It doesn’t hold that many people (3,900). But they had a lot of fans there that night.”

After his coaching career, he worked as primary West Coast advance NBA scout for the Los Angeles Lakers and served as a special consultant to the Lakers.

Hazzard is survived by his widow, Jaleesa, a Bruin cheerleader during the 1964 NCAA championship season, and four grown sons — Yakub, Jalal, Khalil and Rasheed. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.    

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or dhunt@phillytrib.com.

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