Remembering UCLA Legend Walt Hazzard, 1942-2011

"It's a lot right here. Lot of heart. Lot of courage." - Bruin Legend Walt Hazzard

The U.C.L.A. family lost a legend last week when former player and coach Walt Hazzard passed away last Friday following a long illness following heart surgery.  He was 69.  He is survived by his wife Jaleesa, and his 4 sons, Yakub, Jalal, Khalil, and Rasheed.

The family issued this statement on Friday afternoon

"Walt Hazzard aka Mahdi Abdul Rahman passed away this afternoon at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center surrounded by family and friends.  Hazzard had been recuperating for a long period due to complications following heart surgery."

It was fitting that Hazzard spent his final days in the same place where Coach spent his, on the campus that defined his basketball legacy.  Coach Ben Howland said of Hazzard.

"Walt was one of the pillars of UCLA's first championship team in men's basketball," said UCLA head men's basketball coach Ben Howland.  "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.  We will all miss Walt, and we send our love to his family."

Walt Hazzard was born in Delaware and grew up in Philadelphia.  He became a star at Overbrook HS, the same school that produced Wilt Chamberlain.  Hazzard headed west to Santa Monica CC in 1961-62 before joining the Bruins' squad as a sophomore in 1962.  Not coincidentally, the U.C.L.A. Basketball program rose to national prominence at that time.

As a sophomore, Hazzard was the starting point guard for John Wooden's Bruins and led them to the first Final Four in school history where they lost to eventual champion Cincinnati by 2.  Hazzard was an All-American as a junior and led the team in scoring that year.  

Hazzard's senior season was something special.  As PG, Hazzard led the Bruins to a perfect 30-0 season.  His accolades included team co-captain, All-American, and National Player of the Year.  In the NCAA Tournament, he averaged almost 20 ppg, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and led U.C.L.A. to its first Men's Basketball Championship.   So good was Walt Hazzard at running the Bruins' offense that, years later, Coach John Wooden said "I never had a better man on the fast break than Walt Hazzard."  So important was that team's success that Coach Wooden also said "Lew Alcindor would never have come to UCLA had we not won it in 1964 and 1965."

During his time on campus, Hazzard roomed with another Bruin legend Arthur Ashe.  He also fell for a Bruin Song Girl (can you blame him?) and married her at the end of his senior year.  Walt and Jaleesa were married 47 years.

Following college, Hazzard played for the U.S. Olympic team and won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Japan.  He then began a 10 year NBA career, starting off with the hometown Los Angeles Lakers.  He was an All-Star in 1968 averaging 24 and 6 for the Seattle SuperSonics.  

Following the NBA, Hazzard turned to coaching.  He spent 2 years each at Compton College and Chapman College before being offered the job at his Alma Mater.  At U.C.L.A., he complied a 77-47 career record over 4 years.  This included the 1985 NIT Championship (I doubt Walt wanted that banner hung).  In 1987, he led Reggie Miller and the Bruins to the Pac-10 Championship, won the first Pac-10 Tourney, and was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

Hazzard was one of 25 charter members of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, and his No. 42 jersey was retired by U.C.L.A. in 1996.

Always a Bruin, Hazzard's post basketball days focused on bettering his community. 

He also became involved with the Young Black Scholars, serving as Director of Development, raising funds and other support to help launch the program. Hazzard started his own non-profit for middle school students, the Los Angeles Sports Academy, focusing on students' love of sports to help improve academic performance in the core subjects of English, math and social studies.

When I arrived on campus as a bright eyed freshman, Walt Hazzard was the Bruins' head coach.  I remember my first basketball game as a freshman, seeing him on the sidelines, and thinking it was neat that a former player was now the coach.  I knew of U.C.L.A.'s success in basketball, but I didn't really get it right away.  It was in attending those games as a freshman and watching Coach Hazzard's Bruins that I got to experience the highs of the wins and the lows of the defeats and feel the effort of the players and share the passion of the fans. Watching Coach Hazzard's Bruins was where I really began to experience and understand the incredible history of Bruin basketball, learn the legacy of Coach Wooden, know the story of the amazing point guard who led U.C.L.A. to its first national title in the sport, recognize the preciousness of all those banners hanging overhead, and most importantly, to appreciate the incredibly special privilege I was given to be a U.C.L.A. Bruin.

And in a way that only an incredible figure can accomplish, my appreciation and respect and love for everything about U.C.L.A. has only grown stronger with his recent passing.  Thank you, Coach Hazzard.

I hope Bruins Nation and the entire Bruin family will always treasure the memory of another great #42 in Bruins lore.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.  Rest in peace, Walt.

From the official website

The Hazzard family has announced that there will be a public service for Walt in the near future and that once those plans have been finalized, details will be announced on UCLABruins.com.

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