UC Irvine Propelled By Players with Deep Family Basketball Ties

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In front of a raucous San Jose crowd, UC Irvine would pull off the biggest upset of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Taking on the 4th seeded Kansas State, 13th seeded UC Irvine would showcase its swagger, defeating the Wildcats 70-64. A team that has won 17 consecutive games, UC Irvine prides itself on having players with profound basketball bloodlines.

“It does do something for us, just having them all here today,” says UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, who got a team-high 19 points. “Having them here in the stands. And for those that couldn’t make it out, I know they’re supporting us.”

UC Irvine’s Max Hazzard Dedicates Win to Late Grandfather

When Max Hazzard converted a late three to seal the win over Kansas State (he had five total three-pointers), he could not help but think of his late Grandfather.

“I know my Grandfather is looking down on me and the rest of the squad, smiling, and that means a lot for me,” states Hazzard. 

Max’s Grandfather is the late Walt Hazzard, who is a basketball legend in the Los Angeles area. He would play college basketball at UCLA, under the inspiring leadership of head coach John Wooden. During the 1963-64 season, the UCLA Bruins would go undefeated. Hazzard was the critical catalyst to carry out Wooden’s zone-press gameplan. He averaged 18.6 PPG for the season, earning him National Player of the Year honours from by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Hazzard would dazzle in the NCAA tournament, capped off with a dominant 98-83 victory over Duke in the National Championship Game. Securing the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award, Hazzard cemented his legacy into UCLA Basketball history, being involved in the school’s first of 10 national championships under John Wooden.

When Max was a little boy, he and Walt would watch basketball games on TV. As Max got older, he would analyze games with his Grandfather. Walt always gave Max the same basketball advice: “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot.”

It is no surprise that Max Hazzard carries some of his Grandfather’s athletic genes. Since the 9th grade, UC Irvine had its sights set on recruiting young Max. He is an effective mid-range shooter, while effective on the defensive side of the ball. Coming to UC Irvine has proven valuable for Hazzard, carrying on his Grandfather’s legacy of having basketball success in California.

“I’ve always known what that last name on the back of my jersey means,” Max said.

UC Irvine’s Collin Welp Carrying Late Father’s Basketball Legacy

Like Max Hazzard, Collin Welp is another UC Irvine player, molded by family basketball ties. Putting up eight points and three rebounds in the Anteaters victory over Kansas State, Welp’s contribution off the bench was critical for UC Irvine’s success. It was the second consecutive impact performance for Welp after he put up 23 points off the bench in the Big West Conference Championship game.

“I focus, train and practice to be able to play well in big games,” says Welp. “My teammates have confidence in me to score, so I just have to step up.”

After Friday’s upset win, Welp could not help but think about his family. It was four years since the Freshman’s father, Christian Welp, passed away of heart failure. Christian was a star forward for the Washington Huskies, who would become the team’s all-time leading scorer, generating over 2,000 career points.

“He taught me everything I know,” said the younger Welp. “I’ve heard stories from his old teammates, and I’ve seen old film of his. I just tried to soak it all up. He coached me tons growing up and then as I got older, he just sort of backed off. He just let me become my own player.”

Throughout his whole basketball career, Collin has been compared to his Father. While it was a difficult reality at times, the Freshman feels blessed and privileged to know he has such a talented bloodline in basketball.

“Growing up, sometimes, it was tougher because I was always compared to him,” Welp said. “But as I’ve grown up, I have started to embrace it. I just try to play and carry myself in a way that would make him proud.”

UC Irvine Ready for Next Challenge in Oregon

Max Hazzard and Collin Welp are not the only UC Irvine team members who have deep family ties to basketball. Spencer Rivers, who helped UC Irvine rally from their 28-18 deficit in the first half against Kansas State, is the son of Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. Bench player JC Butler, who is the son of former NBA star Caron Butler, came into the game late to play strong defense against the Wildcats. Both of JC’s parents were in the crowd to cheer on their son.

“My mom came from Wisconsin and he came up from Southern California, so it was good to have both of them here,” Butler said.

UC Irvine will be taking on the Oregon Ducks in the Round of 32, a 12 seed that upset the fifth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers. During their winning streak that dates back from the middle of January, UC Irvine has showcased defensive prowess. Its 38 percent field goal percentage defense is ranked fifth nationally, and its 1,411 total rebounds were the most in Division I this past season.

But UC Irvine coach Russell Turner is ready for the opportunity to launch his program into the national spotlight. For years, the Anteaters have been second fiddle to schools like UCLA, that have a perennial basketball reputation for generations.

With the win on Friday, UC Irvine is beginning that transformation process. Having players that have deep basketball bloodlines, it will serve this program well as it attempts to make the second week of the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m really happy for these players to be able to work so hard for something everybody can see and then accomplish it,” stated Turner. “But I’m also really excited for the fans of our program who also seem to have endured feeling like little brothers. You know, we need to stick our chests out a little bit right now, I believe.”