Hampton puts faith in Hazelwood

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Trying to replace former Hampton High head coach Jerry White is like trying to fit in Shaquille O'Neal's Reeboks. Needless to say, it's a tough task.
   But White is leaving the Hampton program with a man who should be the right fit for the job.
   Bud Hazelwood will be the man to take over for White. He's been an assistant under White for 12 years, and is looking forward to the challenge.
   "I'm a little excited, a little scared, and a little shocked," Hazelwood said. "It's just overwhelming. There have only been three coaches at Hampton in the last 40 years, so there's not a big changeover. I'm looking forward to it."
   Hazelwood knows replacing a man who won 634 games and 13 district titles will be difficult.
   "I don't think anybody can fill his shoes," Hazelwood said. "We'll be rebuilding. We lost a lot, but I'm confident. I think he has confidence in me. It's not going to be easy. It's like following John Wooden or Adolph Rupp."
   White definitely had confidence in Hazelwood. The long-time coach recommended Hazelwood for the job, and the new skipper was honored to have White's support.
   "I'm honored that he wanted me," Hazelwood said. "It's a good feeling knowing somebody of his caliber was really pushing hard for you. I've been loyal to him the last 12 years, and in the end he was real loyal to me."
   With White being so successful, Hazelwood wants to keep things just like they are.
   "I don't think you'll see much difference," Hazelwood said. "If it isn't broke don't fix it. I've asked for his input, and he's asked me for my input. He was great to work for. He lets you try things, and listens to suggestions."
   The transition should be a smooth one, as Hazelwood has been around Hampton's returning players.
   But Hazelwood admitted that the current crop of players will be missing a treat by not playing for Coach White.
   "I briefly talked to some of the players (Tuesday night)," Hazelwood said. "They're going to miss the opportunity to play for a legend. They're enthused about playing for me, but this season's freshmen don't know what they're missing by not getting to play for him."
   Hazelwood has been around the Hampton basketball program just about all his life. He played for coach White and former assistant Len Dugger at Hampton during the mid-1970s.
   "I was a bench warmer," Hazelwood said. "I knew what I was supposed to do, I just didn't have the ability to get the job done."
   Hazelwood may have lacked the ability to star on the basketball court, but he knew he wanted to be a coach.
   Hazelwood started coaching the seventh grade team when he was in college, and was later promoted to the eighth-grade squad.
   After nine years at Hampton Elementary, Hazelwood moved on to the high school. And now after 12 years as an assistant, Hazelwood is the man for the job.
   "It's been a dream of mine to be a head coach," Hazelwood said. "Ever since high school, really."
   Hazelwood hopes next year's team can build on this year's success. The Bulldogs won the District 1-AA Tournament championship, but graduated several players from that team.
   There is light at the end of the tunnel, as the Bulldogs fielded very strong junior varsity, freshman, and junior high squads in 2001-2002.
   "We have a lot of good young talent," Hazelwood said. "But we're inexperienced, and it's going to take time. Leon (Tolley) does a great job with the junior high team. We're hoping we can get at least two players from Little Milligan every year."
   Hazelwood will have an experienced group of assistants with Kelly Oliver and Mark McClain sitting beside him on the Hampton bench.
   "We have a good working relationship," Hazelwood said. "We get along real well."