Dec. 5, 2008
Marquette's jump to the BIG EAST Conference may not mean more to any current Golden Eagle than it does to Queens, N.Y., native Patrick Hazel. Being able to play in front of family and friends at various times throughout the season and at the BIG EAST Tournament makes Hazel's college experience that much more enjoyable.
Considered by some people as the Mecca of the basketball world, Madison Square Garden is the host site of the BIG EAST Tournament every year (as well as home to conference opponent St. John’s and the NBA’s New York Knicks), the BIG EAST becomes the de-facto center of the college basketball universe during that time.
Hazel is fascinated by the eletric atmosphere of playing in one of the most hallowed of basketball venues.
"It's special, being able to play in the biggest games," Hazel said. "The BIG EAST Tournament, that is as big as it gets. It is kind of overwhelming to play in games like that and it is a great feeling to play in Madison Square Garden."
Being from New York, with basketball bloodlines, Hazel was destined to play collegiate basketball from the beginning.
"Growing up in New York is a lot different from anywhere else," Hazel commented about his hometown. "It's fast-paced and there's a lot going on all the time."
Hazel's older brother, Lance Jr., was a college basketball player at NCAA Division II Queens College, while his father, Lance Sr., played at York College.
"My biggest basketball influence was definitely my brother," Hazel said. "He introduced me to the game and told me I could go really far if I put a lot into it. My dad didn't make it to Division I basketball but he definitely was a good player back in his day. I guess I'm just living on their legacies."
Hazel also draws inspiration from other current and former NBA players.
"Growing up, I was a big fan of Patrick Ewing and the way he just inspired his team and all the fans," said Hazel. "Kobe Bryant is definitely one of my favorite players, too. He's just a dominating player and takes over the game whenever he wants to. And Michael Jordan, the greatest ever."
Growing up in a basketball hotbed like New York kept Hazel surrounded by the game and allowed him to play against some of the best players in the country on a daily basis.
After leaving Bayside High School, where he had followed in his brother's footsteps, Hazel transferred to Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., which has produced current NBA players, Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva and Royal Ivey.
"’Charlie V.’ is one of those guys I can look to, being from my prep school," said Hazel. "Ron Artest is from Queens and Sebastian Telfair is from the area as well."
Playing at Blair allowed Hazel to develop as a basketball player and ease into the college environment. Ranked as one of the top fifth-year players in the country following his time at Blair, Hazel was selected to play in the 2007 Jordan Brand Classic Regional game at Madison Squard Garden against the top players in the New York-New Jersey area.
"It was an unforgettable experience," said Hazel. "Just to be able to meet Michael Jordan and play in that game with all the talented players in the most famous basketball arena in the world."
It was interesting for Hazel how things played out, as he was a kid from the City playing on the Jordan Suburban team.
"I was caught in the middle because I was from New York, but I played high school ball in New Jersey," Hazel explained. "I had to play on the New Jersey team with one of my high school teammates, Alexis Wangmene, who is at (Univ. of) Texas, along with a couple of other BIG EAST guys, Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn from Rutgers."
In that game, Hazel contributed eight points on 3-of-4 shooting along with two blocked shots, but couldn't help the Suburban team beat the City team, as they fell 114-112.
This season, Hazel has exceeded last year's 14 game totals in almost every statistical category through the season's first seven games, and he has seen a vast increase in playing time due to injuries and departures from the program. He currently leads the team in field goal percentage at 76.9 percent, having taken only 13 shots, but is third on the team with 14 offensive rebounds.
"I'm the guy that does a lot of the things that the other guys don't do," said Hazel. "Bringing the energy, running around, sprinting, getting lose balls, rebounds. Everybody doesn't have to score. I am not going to score 20 points a game, but making sure that I am doing the little things that aren't showing up on the stat sheet, like getting a charge, getting a loose ball."
Hazel says that with the added responsibilities he has made sure that he is ready to contribute when he steps on the court.
"My mindset has changed from last year to this year with being a more confident player. Making sure that my teammates can trust me every single play of the game when I am in and that they know that I am going to help them out no matter what. It is fun at the end of the day being able to step up and help the team," Hazel remarked.
Going to Blair, a prep school that costs over $41,000 a year for boarding and tuition, has helped Hazel make the transition to Marquette more easily. He has declared as a corporate communications major in the J. WIlliam and Mary Diederich College of Communication, a new area of study at the University.
With the recent troubles relating to the world’s economy, corporations could come calling on Hazel as a responsible communications professional in the near future.
"We talk about financial situations within corporations and companies and crisis situations and how you deal with those," Hazel explained. "How you deal with employees, stake holders, annual reports, it is really interesting."
For now Hazel is concentrating on the season at hand and hoping to show off at Madison Square Garden in front of his hometown audience later this year.