Rudel: On and off court, Hazinsky learned, built trust
Joe Hazinsky had the unique distinction of playing with the two greatest post-Maurice Stokes era players St. Francis ever had.
Hazinsky arrived as a freshman in 1968 – just in time to spend a season with senior Norm Van Lier before becoming Kevin Porter’s chief beneficiary and backcourt mate from 1969-72.
“Norm Van Lier was my idol,” Hazinsky, one of five players set to be honored at St. Francis’ Men’s Basketball Golden Era Hall of Fame on Saturday, June 29, recalled the other day. “He was truly a big brother to us. And Kevin Porter made me the player I was.”
Hazinsky scored 1,187 points, a 15.4 per-game average for three years, and upon graduation was the 10th-leading scorer in school history.
He was a product of the Philadelphia Catholic League, then a fertile recruiting territory for St. Francis, and combined with Porter to form the school’s most dynamic backcourt.
“Kevin was a special player,” Hazinsky said. “He was so fast, and he knew where I was all the time. We scored a lot of points together because he was a great passer. I knew how to move without the ball, and if I was open, I got the ball. Kevin made it easy for us.”
Former St. Francis men’s basketball coach Dave Magarity, now coaching the Army women’s program, was an underclassman at the time. He said, “That was a great backcourt. Hazinsky was tremendous, one of the greatest shooters. On any other team, he probably would have been the main guy, but Porter was just so good.”
Just as he received mentorship from Van Lier, Hazinsky took Rick Hockenos under his wing when Hockenos came to St. Francis from Niagara County Community College in 1972.
“He was my hero because he was playing beside Kevin Porter, and they were one of the best tandems I had ever seen,” Hockenos, who remained in the Altoona area after his St. Francis career, said. “Kevin made it all happen, but Zing [Hazinsky’s nickname] was automatic. He was really, really a great player.”
St. Francis played at the Jaffa Mosque (now called the Jaffa Shrine Center) through Hazinsky’s freshman year – the Frankie freshmen averaged 115 points per game, Magarity said – and then moved to the Cambria County War Memorial after a complaint about the Mosque’s smaller dimensions.
“I loved the Mosque,” Hazinsky said. “You couldn’t compare the War Memorial to the Mosque. The Mosque was special place – and the people were right on top of you.”
As much as he loved his basketball experience at St. Francis, Hazinsky, who now runs his own liquor courier business in Philly called, “Zing,” felt he benefitted as much in cultural growth and personal relationships.
The 1960s were a turbulant time – the players had heard about how St. Francis, with its diverse roster, couldn’t stay in some southern hotels earlier in the decade – and Hazinsky felt basketball allowed people to appreciate each other.
He fondly recalls Van Lier lending him his car for a return trip to Philly.
“There was a lot of racial tension in that era,” Hazinsky said. “I played against a lot of black athletes in high school, but I never really knew that many and to be able to meet people like Kevin Porter and [teammates] Sam Sloan and Alan Spencer from all different parts of the country We were just basketball players, and we got to know each other, even though we were from a different race, and we respected each other as players and people.”
One of the most interesting life experiences for Hazinsky came when he took his teammates to a family picnic at his grandmother’s house in Swoyersville, a small town outside Wilkes-Barre.
“They [his family] couldn’t believe I had teammates that were African-American,” Hazinsky said, citing awkward moments. “Forty-eight hours later, we’re all laughing and eating kolbasi and perogies and having a good old time.”
Hazinsky, 63, will be reunited with many of his former teammates at the Golden Era dinner organized by Bob Moore, former St. Francis publicist and now the team historian with the Kansas City Chiefs. Other inductees include Gene DeBerardinis, Ed Dugan, Len Murray and Ed Winters.
“It’s hard to describe,” Hazinsky said of his reaction. “It’s certainly special, and it tells me that my peers have respect for me. I never really dreamed of it or expected it or anticipated anything like this, but I will accept this graciously.”
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.