UCLA basketball great Walt Hazzard dies
Walt Hazzard, the former UCLA and NBA star who played on the Bruins’ first NCAA championship basketball team in 1964 and later coached the team for four seasons in the 1980s, died Friday. He was 69.
Hazzard’s family said he had been recuperating for a long time from complications following heart surgery. The school said Hazzard died at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center.
He had a stroke in March 1996 and made a strong recovery, but became less publicly active. He made occasional appearances at UCLA games in recent years.
Hazzard was co-captain of the 1964 national title team that went 30-0 under coach John Wooden. He averaged a career-high 18.6 points as a senior playmaking guard. He was chosen college basketball’s player of the year, having averaged 19.8 points in the NCAA tournament, where he was selected as the most valuable player.
As a junior, Hazzard led the Bruins with a 16.3 scoring average and they won 20 games for the first time since 1957. In his sophomore season, he averaged 13.2 points and the Bruins reached the Final Four for the first time in school history, losing by two points to eventual national champion Cincinnati in the semifinals.
Hazzard transferred to UCLA after spending one season at Santa Monica College.
In 1996, UCLA retired his No. 42 jersey.
”Walt was one of the pillars of UCLA’s first championship team in men’s basketball,” current coach Ben Howland said. ”He was a great player and an outstanding coach at UCLA. He is a huge part of the Bruin legacy, and he left life-long memories for the Bruin faithful.”
Hazzard helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and played 10 years in the NBA, including a stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, who made him the No. 1 overall pick.
Hazzard averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 assists during his career with the Lakers, Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo and Golden State. He ranked among the league’s top 10 in assists during six of his seasons. In 1968, he averaged 23.9 points and 6.2 assists, culminating in an appearance in the All-Star game.
During his four years as UCLA coach, the Bruins had a 77-47 record. In 1985, he led them to the school’s first NIT championship. In 1987, UCLA won the Pac-10 title and the league’s first postseason tournament with future NBA star Reggie Miller in the lineup. They finished with a 25-7 mark, losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with Hazzard selected league coach of the year.
”Thoughts and prayers go out to the Hazzard family on your loss,” Miller tweeted Friday night. ”Coach Hazzard was not only a STUD point guard at UCLA under Coach Wooden…But a great Coach as well. He helped shaped me into the ball player I was, thanks so much Coach..”
The Bruins slumped to a 16-14 record the following year, and Hazzard was replaced by Jim Harrick for the 1988-89 season.
”This is a sad day for the UCLA basketball family,” Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero said.
”Walt was the catalyst for Coach John Wooden’s first championship team and played the game with a style that excited Bruin basketball fans everywhere. He contributed to his alma mater in numerous ways, including as a student-athlete, coach and honored alum, and he will be greatly missed by all of us knew him.”
Before taking over at his alma mater, Hazzard coached two seasons each at Compton College near Los Angeles and Chapman College in Orange County.
In 1994, Hazzard re-joined the Lakers as a West Coast advance scout. After his stroke, he served as a special consultant to the team for another 15 years.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss said, ”Walt was a man of extremely high character.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, ”Not only was Walt an outstanding player, but his knowledge of the game was extremely valuable to our front office as well over the past 17 years. In the years since his stroke, he has been an inspiration to many of us with his perseverance and his passion for the game.”
Hazzard, a native of Wilmington, Del., starred at Philadelphia’s Overbrook High, where Wilt Chamberlain had played years earlier. During his three-year varsity basketball career, Hazzard led the school to an 89-3 record and two city titles. He also played baseball and ran track, and was student body president.
Hazzard is survived by wife Jaleesa, a Bruins song girl during the 1964 NCAA title season, and sons Yakub, Jalal, Khalil and Rasheed. During his NBA career, Hazzard converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman. He felt the change was poorly received and cost him professional opportunities so he returned to using his given name professionally while remaining a devout Muslim.