Beyond the basket: Brachen Hazen expands his role off of the court going into his fifth year

<p>Redshirt junior Brachen Hazen goes up to the rim Feb. 11, 2020, at John E. Worthen Arena. Hazen scored seven points against the Huskies. <strong>Jacob Musselman, DN</strong></p>

Redshirt junior Brachen Hazen goes up to the rim Feb. 11, 2020, at John E. Worthen Arena. Hazen scored seven points against the Huskies. Jacob Musselman, DN

Brachen Hazen’s team is down one point and needs a stop, a score and another stop to win the game. 

However, this isn’t a game at Worthen Arena for Ball State Men’s Basketball. This is a scrimmage at practice. 

“Hey, let’s get a stop,” Hazen said to his teammates. 

The redshirt senior forward’s team got the stop and scored on the other end, but when it was time for a final stop, redshirt junior forward Zach Gunn blew by Hazen and scored.

As a fifth-year player, Hazen’s role is magnified. He is the second-most experienced player on the Cardinals’ roster, and his leadership responsibilities are increased. Hazen is a role model for his team and knows while letting his teammates score on him isn’t a big deal, eyes are still on him.

“People are watching me all of the time,” Hazen said. “If I goof up, they are going to notice.”

Ball State head coach James Whitford scouted Hazen before he joined the Cardinals, and his personality quickly stood out. Hazen spent his freshman season at Arkansas, appearing in 14 games. Whitford said he could tell early on that Hazen has always been a leader.

“I knew he had a great personality because I recruited him for a long time,” Whitford said. “He was always someone that I really [enjoyed] being around. He had that great positive attitude, and I knew he was always high character. What I didn’t know was his natural ability to lead.”

Now, Hazen is entering the fifth year of his collegiate career. While it was unexpected, he said, he is prepared to hold his teammates accountable.

“It was never the plan to be here for five years, but life happens,” Hazen said. “It is nothing I am ashamed of, but it allows me to kind of naturally be in a leadership role. I know what is expected of everybody and what the coaching staff is looking for. It boils down to experience.”

While a back injury has stymied Hazen for most of his collegiate career. In his redshirt sophomore season, Hazen missed 15 games due to injury and added one more last season. Despite his setbacks, Whitford praised how he has remained positive throughout the process. 

“It is human nature because when [the team] watches Brachen fight through his injury, it is natural for them to put the team first when they have their own problems,” Whitford said. “They’re modeling after someone like Brachen, and it encourages them.”

Even as an older player, Hazen knows he isn’t going to drop 20 points a game or be a primary option offensively. He embraces his role because he understands the positive impact it will have on his teammates.

Ball State redshirt junior forward Brachen Hazen gets a rebound during the Cardinals' game against Howard Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, at John E. Worthen Arena. Hazen had six rebounds. Paige Grider, DN

“My role isn’t to score the most points or get the most rebounds,” Hazen said. “It’s to be the locker room guy and keep everybody loose and have fun. At the same time, I do have a role off of the court. If I can do my job to the best of my ability, it’s going to help the team.”

As a fifth-year student-athlete, Hazen has a lot of time to work on his body, and right now, he is focusing on getting healthy for the upcoming season.

“A lot of my time right now is recovery,” Hazen said. “I have had a few back injuries in the past three years. I had a bit of a stint before practices really got going, so it is a lot of load management for me and knowing how to recover — when to take a practice off and when to work out.”

Hazen graduated this past May with a bachelor’s degree from Ball State. He then moved into the university’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences program, where he has been working toward his master’s degree.

“The classes I am taking are classes that will, for sure, carry into life after basketball,” Hazen said. “I am taking a bunch of leadership classes. It is definitely a different experience than being an undergraduate. It is something I am enjoying, and it hasn’t been too stressful.”

Hazen said Kyle Mallers, Ball State alumnus and former Cardinals forward, gave him guidance on how to balance responsibilities as a graduate student-athlete.

“I was able to see Kyle move into a graduate role last year,” Hazen said. “He showed me the ropes and gave me a teaser on what life as a grad student is as well as an athlete. That prepared me on what to expect as far as workload.” 

Whitford said Hazen will be missed after this season, as there are many qualities he brings to the Cardinals beyond what happens on the court. 

“His personality will be missed,” Whitford said. “One of the many things I love about Brachen is that he is just a very positive person. He enjoys life, and he always brings a smile every day to practice.”

Contact Ian Hansen with comments at imhansen@bsu.edu or on Twitter @ianh_2.

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