Walt Hazzard played point guard with style

Nov 19 2011 - 6:03pm

Walt Hazzard, 69, the slick point guard who was a significant part of basketball dynasties at Overbrook High School and UCLA as well as an NBA star and coach of the Bruins in the 1980s, died Friday at Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles after a long illness.

A West Philadelphia native, Hazzard was a key player on one of the best teams in Philadelphia scholastic history. As a junior, his 1959 Overbrook team, which also featured Wali Jones and Ralph Heyward, won the city championship after capturing 66 of its previous 68 games. In his three varsity years there, Overbrook went 89-3.

He also was a star on John Wooden's first NCAA championship team at UCLA in 1964. Hazzard averaged 18.6 points as the Bruins' senior point guard. With backcourt mate Gail Goodrich, Hazzard was part of one of the most dynamic guard tandems in college history.

"This is a sad day for the UCLA basketball family," athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a news release. "(He) 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 who knew him."

Former Overbrook coach and 1968 West Philadelphia city champion Freddie Stokes grew up with Wali Jones' younger brother Billy and said Hazzard was like a brother.

"He was a fantastic player, great offensive player," Stokes said. "He had no weakness.

"Walt was one of the first Philadelphia ball players to go to UCLA. Out of all the guys that John Wooden would talk about -- I know he loved Kareem and Bill Walton -- Walt Hazzard was the one who took him to the championship."

That 1964 title was the first of nine that Wooden's Bruins won in the next 10 seasons, failing only in 1966.

After graduating from Overbrook in 1960, Hazzard attended Santa Monica College for one season before transferring to UCLA.

A flashy dribbler and passer in an era when those skills were rarely showcased, Hazzard averaged 13.2 points as a Bruins sophomore. That team reached the Final Four for the first time in school history, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Cincinnati.

An all-American as a junior, Hazzard averaged 16.3 points. In his senior season, he was named college basketball's player of the year and was the MVP of the Final Four.

According to TedSilary.com, Overbrook, which earlier had turned out such stars as Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Lear and Wayne Hightower, went 16-0 in the Public League in 1959, then beat West Catholic in the city championship game.

Hazzard, who honed his skills at playgrounds near his 61st and Ellsworth home, had 16 points; Jones had 24; and Heyward scored 20 in the Brook's 72-53 victory. That West team featured three future college coaches: Jim Lynam, Jim Boyle, and Hall of Famer Herb Magee.

After leaving UCLA, Hazzard was chosen for the U.S. Olympic team, which won the gold medal in the Tokyo Games.

Drafted by the Lakers in the first round that year, he averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 assists during a 10-year career with Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo, and Golden State.

Hazzard went on to coach at his alma mater, leading UCLA to the 1985 NIT title and an NCAA tournament berth in 1987. He compiled a record of 77-47 and won a Pacific Ten title in 1987.

In 1996, Hazzard suffered a debilitating stroke and underwent heart surgery.

Ten years earlier, Hazzard had recalled for the Philadelphia Daily News the one-on-one games he and Jones used to play against future Temple coach John Chaney, their physical education instructor at Overbrook.

"He used to beat me up physically and cheat," Hazzard said. "But I still used to beat him, though, even when I was a young kid."

He is survived by his wife, Jaleesa, and four sons. Funeral services are pending.

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