These last 4 years have just flown by. As a junior at Seton Hall, I was not there physically for Jeremy Hazell's first season as a Pirate, but I was aware of the 6'5" kid from Harlem with range from the parking lot. Back then, he was a skinny freshman who could light it up on occasion. But Hazell's job on that team was not to be Option 1. Brian Laing was Option 1 that year, 2007-08, finishing 3rd in the Big East in scoring.
The names on that team were familiar to Pirate fans of yesteryear, but to the new SHU follower, they are foreign. The current freshman never knew Paul Gause, Jamar Nutter, John Garcia, Eugene Harvey, Larry Davis, or Mike Davis. Even Robert Mitchell may be a bit of an urban legend to them.
Jeremy Hazell is the only one left. Yes, Jeff Robinson will be honored today as well, but he was just a freshman at Memphis that season, playing in the Final Four alongside the likes of Derrick Rose, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Robert Dozier.
Not exactly Augustine Okosun, right?
That's not to slight Robinson's contributions over the last year and a half, but no one could have really foreseen that Hazell would end up being the most important Pirate in the three years after that freshman campaign. Or that he would become the most prolific three-point shooter in Seton Hall and Big East Conference history. Or that he would end up with just two former Pirates scoring more points in their Pirate careers.
Hazell was a special player, but at the start of his sophomore season, we didn't know it yet. We knew that there would be no more Brian Laing to fall back on for scoring and leadership. We also knew that the Pirates were woefully undermanned, and someone had to step up and take the torch from Laing.
That player ended up being Hazell, as he scored 20 or more points in 3 of the Pirates first four games, including 32 points against national power Memphis in Puerto Rico. It was quickly apparent that he was the best player on an undermanned team.
Later in the year, he tied the game against Villanova and sent it to OT on an incredible bank-shot three over 3 defenders that I still don't quite believe went it. Unfortunately for Seton Hall, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds was better, with a then- Rock record 40 points as the 'Cats got the W in OT. But that was indicative of the type of shooter that he was- willing, and able, to take and make any shot from inside the half court line. And he hit some really tough shots in scoring 30 or more points 6 times that year, the most since Dan Calandrillo was in Blue and White.
The next year, however, was when Hazell put the rest of the nation on notice. The Big East coaches already knew about him, but in a nationally televised game on CBS the day after Christmas, Hazell shone, even if he was inefficient and had little help.
That was the game in which he nailed an NBA-range three, and then an even deeper three on the next possession to tie the game and send the Rock into euphoria, not to mention the game into OT. I was in disbelief and pure, unadulterated joy at the same time. He finished with 41 that day, still his career-high, in a Pirate loss, but now people outside the Big East knew who Jeremy Hazell was.
Then he dropped 38 on Syracuse (again with not much help) in another Pirate loss. He also shot Notre Dame out of the building with 35 points on 12-16 shooting and 8-11 from beyond the arc, a performance that many regard as the best of his career because of the efficiency with which he carved up the Irish. That game was a Pirate W.
This year, he was picked first team All-Big East, and through the first 3 games, he certainly looked like it. Averaging 24 PTS on an insanely good set of percentages, the Pirates knocked off future NCAA Bubble Team Alabama in the first round of the Paradise Jam. Pirate confidence was at one of its greatest highs.
Then we heard about The Injury. We took for granted the fact over the last 3 years, Hazell never missed a game in his career. Not one. Until then, when it was revealed he would be out for what was really 4 weeks, but what seemed like an eternity with a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist. We could not really tell how the team would respond, but we knew that the NCAA dreams the team once had were teetering on the edge of a cliff.
The offense sputtered and ground to a halt at times, and the Pirates lost games by just simply not being able to score, something unfamiliar to Pirate fans. There was anger at the losses, most of it misguided. We found out very quickly that Hazell was that good, and that important to the team.
Hazell returned against DePaul magnificently, dropping 23 en route to a Pirate W. But it was clear that he was not the player he was at the start of the year. Wearing a heavy brace on his wrist and hand, his shooting percentages plummeted from their prior heights, and aside from a great shooting performance in the Seton Hall upset of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, he struggled by his lofty standards. Thursday night, against St. John's, he scored a season-high 31 with no more bracing on his hand. He was once again efficient, and he looked like himself again. It's rather poetic/tragic that just as he gets back to looking like himself again, his career is coming to a close at Seton Hall.
And it was a great career, one of the best statistical careers ever at the Hall. But Hazell never played in the NCAA Tournament, something that's near criminal given his skill. It's something brought up in conversation.
Some think that because of this fact, Hazell's career was not successful. But I disagree. When you look at his career, it has been memorable. He has hit shots that no one thought were possible with regularity. He is one of the top players in the Big East and one of the great shooters in Big East and Seton Hall history. How can one truly say that such a player had an unsuccessful career? Had he stayed healthy, he may have broken the scoring record here at Seton Hall. If he did this, and didn't make the NCAAs, could we really say with conviction that his career was for nothing because of this fact?
We refrain regularly to use his injury as an excuse as to why the season became derailed for the Pirates, but we always come back to it as well. It really did change the course of the season. And I think it's unfair to call one of the great players in Seton Hall history unsuccessful just because of the lack of March Madness appearances. It's tough to make the NCAA Tournament, and it takes a team to do it, not just one player. We can't hold Hazell hostage for a team failure. It's just not fair, or right, in my opinion.
He certainly provided some memories, that's for sure. Here are Hazell's 5 Greatest Games at Seton Hall (feel free to disagree with me in the comments section), from 5 to 1:
3/3/11 vs St. John's (31 PTS / 4 REB / 3 AST / 3 STL / 9-14 FG / 4-6 3PM/ 9-14 FT)
11/19/10 vs Alabama (27 PTS / 4 STL / 6-12 FG / 5-6 3PM / 10-16 FT)
11/20/09 @ Cornell (33 PTS / 12-25 FG / 5-12 3PM / 4-5 FT)
5- @ Syracuse (1/25/11)
28 PTS / 9 REB / 4 AST / 4 STL / 10-17 FG / 5-10 3PM / 3-3 FT
This game came out of nowhere. Sort of. Hazell had struggled since coming back from his injury, and in this particular game, he made his first shot, a seriously deep straightaway three. It signaled the start of a special night for Seton Hall, as they upset the 9th-ranked Orange 90-68. Hazell also had a three at the end of the shot clock over a defender challenging his shot that ranks among the many vintage Hazell shots that he's hit over the years.
4- vs Syracuse (12/29/09)
38 PTS / 5 REB / 2 AST / 5 STL / 12-31 FG / 6-15 3PM / 8-9 FT
An all-around great statistical night for Jeremy. The 38 points were the second most he's scored at Seton Hall in a single game, and the Pirates were right in the game until the last few minutes. It was a tough loss, to be sure, but Hazell was great, especially considering he had 41 points just three days before. Not bad for a two-game stretch.
3- vs West Virginia (12/26/09)
41 PTS / 7 REB / 14-33 FG / 4-19 3PM / 9-12 FT
Hazell's career-high came with the two most incredible shots he's hit at Seton Hall so far, one that brought the Pirates within one, and the second on the next SHU possession that tied the game. It completed a still-didn't-believe-they-did-it 10-point comeback in 56 seconds on national TV in the only college basketball game that day. It would have ranked higher if not for the 4-19 mark from deep. If Hazell was more efficient from there, this might have ranked number 1 if the Pirates won the game (which with a few more Hazell makes would have been the case).
2- vs Notre Dame (2/11/10)
35 PTS / 3 REB / 4 STL / 12-16 FG / 8-11 3PM / 3-5 FT
Hazell's most efficient scoring night came with not much fanfare- he just went out there and provided what his team needed. The Pirates knocked off Luke Harangody and the Irish that night, but it still ranked behind....
1- vs Louisville (1/18/08)
29 PTS / 2 REB / 2 STL / 10-17 FG / 8-14 3PM / 1-2 FT
Yes, he's scored many more points than 29 many times. But this is the game that put Hazell on the map. There are YouTube videos from this game, and with every three he hit, the crowd got more and more excited. The shots he hit in the second half blew the roof off the Rock as the Pirates got revenge for a very physical loss the year before at Louisville and upset the Cardinals and Rick Pitino, a character not very much liked in most Seton Hall circles. The atmosphere in this game was unreal- with every three, Hazell got more and more confidence to the point that he hit everything he threw up, despite the defense's best efforts. A great game by a great player, and he was only a freshman at the time.
This Pirate senior has had a great career, and he will rightly receive a standing ovation tonight before the game. Good luck in your future basketball endeavors, Jeremy. We hope to see you in the NBA someday.