Bruin Nation has suffered a sad loss as Walt Hazzard, the point guard on John Wooden’s first NCAA Championship team in 1964 and head basketball coach from 1984 to 1988, passed away on Friday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on campus. He was 69.
Hazzard, who had a series of health problems including a stroke in 1996 while serving as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, died from heart surgery complications following a long illness.
Said Athletic Director Dan Guerrero in a statement: “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.”
Current basketball coach Ben Howland said that Hazzard was “…one of the pillars of UCLA’s first championship team in men’s basketball…he was a huge part of the UCLA legacy.”
Hazzard came to UCLA from Philadephia’s Overbrook High School, where Wilt Chamberlain also attended. He became a three-year starter who led the Bruins to their first Final Four appearance in 1962 as well as the title in ’64, when the Bruins went 30-0.
He became a two-time All-American starting in 1963 and won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo the same year the Bruins won their first title. After being chosen in the first round by the Lakers later that year and playing three seasons for them, he played on several more teams before retiring in 1974.
Ten years after that, Hazzard became the fifth basketball coach that UCLA hired to try and replace Wooden and add to the legacy of excellence that the great coach established. His four year record of 77-47 would have been perfectly fine at most schools, but not in Westwood as though he coached future NBA great Reggie Miller, won an NIT championship in 1985, and was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 1987, his teams made the NCAA Tournament only once.
He was fired in 1988 and replaced by Jim Harrick largely because of that.
Obviously, Hazzard will be greatly missed in the UCLA community and by all of Bruin Nation.
Rest in peace, Walt (1942-2011). And be sure to give Mr. Wooden – I’ve always felt that he was much more than a coach and deserved to be called mister – our very best regards.