Before I get to the Hazzard era All-Star Team, let me start with a brief vignette which proves UCLA basketball greatness even in arguably its least great era. Hazzard’s star recruit was Pooh Richardson. The incoming freshman was at UCLA’s Men Gym (now called the “Student Activities Center”) playing in the summer scrimmages with the pros. In walks Magic Johnson of the NBA Championship Lakers. Pooh Richardson was literally shaking as he walks up to shake Magic’s hand. Magic was “it’s cool, kid” or something similar.
And this goes on today. While I was personally there for the above, last summer Jaylen Hands was playing pickup basketball against Lebron James at UCLA. I am confident that is happening more this summer. UCLA basketball has a huge advantage over other schools as our players get a chance to run with the pros in pickup summer games. I don’t think you’ll see the pros hanging out in Lexington, Kentucky for the summer, while in LA, on the other hand, wow!
Back to the Walt Hazzard era. In ways, it was the most surreal in UCLA Basketball history. Why? Let’s start with the coach. There was no more loyal person in UCLA basketball history. Hazzard was a UCLA great as a player and even a cheerleader for the football team. He really did bleed blue and gold. He was initially hired to be an assistant coach but then-head coach Larry Farmer quit since Hazzard was the choice of the Athletic Director Pete Dalis, not Farmer. At the resulting press conference announcing his hire, Hazzard was not sure if he was coach or co-coach with Jack Hirsch. Hazzard never asked for the head coaching job. After he was fired, he continued to work for UCLA.
Hazzard was not the only crazy thing about the era.
The Bench Guy, or be careful who you laugh at
As UCLA played in the first round of the NIT and was blowing out a Montana team with crew cuts (not stylish in the eighties) led by then player and current Utah Coach Larry Krystkowiak, the backup center entered the game. He was clumsy, lost, could not shoot, and highly mockable by the crowd enjoying a blowout win in a NIT game. After the crew cuts, it was my main memory of the game. Maybe this was appropriate for a guy who, when Hazzard went to offer him a scholarship, Hazzard said “I thought you were black.” It became apparent Hazzard had never seen him and just wanted another big body.
Of course, this backup center went on to have a long NBA career, albeit a unique one.
Jack Haley was a good defensive center at UCLA and always a great teammate. In the NBA, he was known as a cheerleader on the bench for the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan era and Dennis Rodman’s babysitter. My friends at ESPN once put together a highlight reel of his best games, which including him cheering, jumping off the bench to high five Michael Jordan, and leading the cheers.
But, Haley had the last laugh.
At UCLA, at his best he was a hard working defender who knew it was Reggie Miller’s team. He was a team player and a good teammate. And he managed to turn that into a long career in the NBA.
Just Missed But, Unfortunately, Not When He Swung
Montel Hatcher could have been a four year starter, three of which under Hazzard. Unfortunately, the story goes he lost his cool in practice and punched someone in practice. I heard this was everyone from Hazzard to others. As a result, Montel started the least games his senior year. Montel was sort of a Byron Scott-type player. He was a great jumper, both shooting and literally. He could really jump and was a good shooter. He was not so good off the dribble. That said, he was the starting two guard for most of his four years at UCLA.
5. The Cop?!?
Trevor Wilson was a stud at UCLA. A 6’4” player who could dribble like a guard and rebound like a power forward. He was a great bank shooter, which, even in the eighties, was a lost art. Trevor had all the tools but the height and outside shot.
He also had arguably the worst temper in UCLA basketball history. Everyone around this era has a Trevor losing his cool story. My favorite was when my inside sources told me how Trevor had learned to control his temper in the off season. In the first exhibition game of the new season, he had to be restrained from starting a fight. The exhibition game was against the Christian preaching team Athletes in Action.
On the court, Trevor was a very good college player and this quote sums up how good a player he was and another example of why I call this the most surreal team considering Trevor’s future profession:
Trevor Wilson (1987-90) flourished as a Bruin in his sophomore season, putting up team-leading 15.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
He was both a scorer and a rebounder and worked his way into the Top 10 for both categories (eighth in scoring, fourth in rebounds). . . .
As of 2005, Wilson was an LAPD officer, according to the following source.
4. The Other Guy Hazzard Saved from the Scrap Heap
Hazzard’s NIT tournament team was a joke to purists. To me, it was good in the context. Larry Farmer was an unqualified disaster and Hazzard picked up the pieces and made something of it. After Hazzard got the job, he got a call from Bruin great Sidney Wicks asking if he could help. Hazzard said get down here for practice on Monday. Wicks would work with the UCLA bigs. Guys like Haley and Brad Wright benefited from Wicks and Hazzard.
Wright was a completely forgotten big who languished on the bench for his first three years when he did not even start a game. He started every game his senior year and was the best center, well, in the NIT. He averaged double-digit points and almost 9 rebounds a game. Hazzard and Wicks made Wright a very good college center
3. Hazzard’s Best Coaching Job
Brad Wright was at least in the right position for his first three years. Nigel Miguel was completely screwed. As Wikipedia details it:
Miguel decided to attend college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) over the University of Southern California (USC), their crosstown rival. He was recruited to UCLA by coach Larry Brown; however, Brown left after the 1980–81 season, and Miguel played under coach Larry Farmer for his first three seasons. He became the first Belizean to play in Division I sports. His play was disappointing; in his junior year in 1983–84, he averaged only 4 points a game with a field goal percentage of just 39.8%.
Walt Hazzard became the UCLA coach in Miguel’s senior year. After playing at both forward and guard under Farmer, he was moved to point guard by Hazzard. In his final season, Miguel became a defensive stopper, and defended the opponents’ best scorer. His scoring also improved to an average of 12 points while shooting 48.6%. Miguel earned All-Pac-10 honors and was also named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year while helping lead the Bruins to the 1985 National Invitation Tournament championship.
2. The Other Philadelphia Great
Hazzard’s other point guard after Miguel was even better. In his three years under Hazzard, Pooh Richardson finished first, second, and second in the Pac-10 in assists. He also had 3 years during his career in the top ten in steals. He was a true point guard who was the first pick ever of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
1. The Player Who Liked to Be Booed
Reggie Miller was easily the best player of the Hazzard era. He was also the only player I have ever known in any sport who liked to be booed. UC Berkeley fans wore giant ears to mock him, others chanted Cheryl at him for his sister, and, not only did it not affect him, he seemed to play better.
I can tell a number of Reggie stories, but will limit myself to two. People forget how dang skinny Reggie was. I remember the team nutritionist trying to get Reggie to gain weight. And this was a serious worry at the time as the knock against Reggie was he too skinny to survive big minutes in the Pac-10, let alone the NBA.
The other story I’ll tell was when I was bragging endlessly to my cousin about the great outside shooting of Reggie Miller. I realize now I was probably annoying saying how great this skinny big-eared UCLA player was. At the time, UCLA allowed student guest tickets, so my cousin was sitting next to me in the student section when UCLA played Notre Dame. As the Daily Bruin described it years later:
Miller carved out a career in which clutch shots were commonplace. One of his most memorable performances came on Jan. 24, 1987 against Notre Dame. With just 10 seconds to play and the Bruins down a point, Miller sent a 28-foot, three-point dagger to the Fighting Irish that would win the game for the Bruins. The game reignited a flame of rivalry between Notre Dame and UCLA dating back to when John Wooden was on the sidelines squaring up against Digger Phelps.
I said to my cousin after that shot “See?!” He replied, “I know but why did he shoot a 28-footer instead of getting closer? “ He was Reggie, he did not need to be closer.
He won the MVP for the NIT and led the Pac-10 in scoring his junior year when he shot 56% from the field and averaged 26 points a game and for the guy who retired as the NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter that was before the three-pointer was instituted in college basketball. Reggie was a Bruin great even if his teams weren’t.
The ultimate surreal aspect is that Reggie beat an Indiana team to win the NIT. That NIT was led by player and current UCLA Coach Steve Alford.
So yeah, it was not even a good era of UCLA basketball, but it certainly had its moments.
This is the fifth installment of a summer series on UCLA Basketball “All Star” teams divided by coaches. The format will be five “best” players, one near miss and one bench player. Also, no preference is given to those who stay longer or those who leave early. Instead, I will rely more on best seasons as Bruins. Pro careers are irrelevant for these posts. Obviously, these are only my opinions and please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. This series will focus solely on the performance of the players and not on the coaches themselves.