Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell, set to face Georgetown, has new appreciation for life after gunshot wound

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 12:27 AM

The Georgetown Hoyas will seek to continue their bid to rebound from a subpar start to conference play Tuesday night. Across the floor at Prudential Center, meanwhile, they'll face a player who already has authored a tale of remarkable resilience.

Seton Hall senior Jeremy Hazell will be playing in his third game since returning from a pair of injuries that threatened to cut short his college basketball career: a broken wrist that required surgery in November and a gunshot wound under his arm suffered during a robbery attempt on Christmas.

"Some guys tried to rob me and take my stuff," Hazell recalled Monday in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't let them, so I started running and they started to shoot at me. I'm just happy I'm all right because it could have been worse."

The incident provided another twist in a season that hasn't unfolded anything like he had envisioned after being tabbed as a first-team Big East preseason selection and the Pirates' first three games, a sizzling stretch in which the 6-foot-5 guard from New York City averaged 24 points.

But Hazell's hopes of becoming Seton Hall's all-time leading scorer ended when he broke the scaphoid bone in his left wrist as he braced himself during a fall against Alabama on Nov. 19. When the school announced he would be sidelined four to six weeks, it was thought Hazell might ask the NCAA for a medical redshirt and return to the Pirates for the 2011-12 season, provided he did not enter the NBA draft.

Late Christmas night, though, Hazell wasn't sure he would make it another day, much less play next season. He was walking back to his Harlem home after a holiday party with a friend when they approached by four individuals. One of them pulled out a gun. As Hazell turned and ran, a bullet pierced his right armpit. Then he received an unexpected gift.

"I ran up the block and, 'Boom', an ambulance was coming down the street," he said. "It was like God was there and sent an angel to me. [The paramedics] began working on me right away. I was just blessed."

The shooting occurred after the Pirates had practiced that night in South Orange, N.J. But Hazell hadn't attended because he been excused from the team to spend a few days with his family while his wrist healed.

"I think about that all the time," Hazell said. "If I had never been hurt, I would had never gone home and this wouldn't have happened."

Instead of ending his season, however, the close call convinced him to return. His teammates needed him. The Pirates had lost eight of 13 games without their best player and captain.

"Before I got hurt, we were on a roll, we were doing great," he said. "I tried to cheer my team on. But it's really hard to watch the game from the sideline when you know you could be in there helping."

After discussing his options with his family and receiving medical clearance, Hazell rejoined the lineup Wednesday at DePaul and came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points, lifting the Pirates to a 78-67 victory that snapped a three-game losing streak. On Saturday, Hazell had a tougher time against the No. 5 Pittsburgh, which held him to nine points on 3-for-13 shooting as the Panthers clamped down on him in the 74-53 loss.

Containing Hazell also figures to be the focus of Austin Freeman and No. 23 Georgetown, which is looking to build on the momentum gained in Saturday's 74-65 victory at Rutgers. With a win, the Hoyas (13-5, 2-4 Big East) can climb back into the thick of the conference standings. To do that, however, they'll need to shut down Hazell. The Pirates are 3-0 when he scores 23 points or more, and they are hungry for their first win over a ranked team (0-3). In the teams' meeting last season, Georgetown limited Hazell to 17 points in the Hoyas' 85-73 victory.

"He's a tough kid," Coach John Thompson III said. "He is a big-time scorer, so their team is much different with him."

Hazell's height and length also makes him a matchup problem for the Hoyas.

"He has deep range, Thompson added. "He can score in the post. He can score off the dribble. He's a scorer."

He's also got a new appreciation for life.

"I learned that life goes by so fast," Hazell said. "You can be big one day and gone the next day. So you have to cherish every moment, stay humble and stay positive. I'm a great situation. But it could have been taken away from me if that bullet would have went one inch either way."

After a pause, he added, "I'm just happy it didn't."

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