February 28 - Looking Back
I am writing this article because every March I plug Hank Gathers' name into the Yahoo search engine
to see what articles come up. And every time I open up an old article, I cannot believe it has really
been sixteen years since arguably the biggest tragedy in the history of college sports spawned one of
its most remarkable stories.
Hank Gathers was one of the best five players I ever saw play the game of
basketball. It does not matter that he never played a professional game
(unless you count those UNLV teams in 1990 as pro teams). Try these stats
on for size, 33 points and 13 rebounds a game his junior year. Both led the
nation. I remember watching him play at War Memorial Gymnasium on the
campus of the University of San Francisco. I was eleven years old at the time,
but even with those young eyes, I could see that there was without doubt one
player on the court much better than all the others. The only question people
had in that gym on that night was how he would have done against the retired
numbers on the wall.
Hank Gathers was a 6’7” guy, who could power you down inside, beat you with the bounce, and make
your knees melt with a smooth mid-range jumper. He had Kenyon Martin hops off the floor. Not the
high rides, but sudden, quick hops that lead to power jams. ESPN Classic loves to show the game
between Loyola Marymount and LSU. Two top-notch teams that engaged in one of the great regular
season college basketball games of all time. Those were the LSU teams of Shaquille O’Neal and
Chris Jackson. LSU would win 151-144. However, Hank Gathers was the best player on the court in
that game. He dropped 48 and 17 and was Shaq’s daddy all afternoon.
Hank Gathers didn’t just ride alone though. His partner in crime was Bo Kimble and they combined
to form “The Hank and Bo Show”. Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were best friends from their days
playing ball on the playgrounds of Philadephia, PA. Teammates at Dobbins Tech, they set off to
southern California to go play for the USC Trojans. After a coaching change, Hank and Bo decided
USC wasn’t for them and they joined up with Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount Lions. It was on
this tiny campus that legends were born. It was like the perfect movie script. Two talented cast-offs
meet up with a former NBA Championship coach and lead a little school to prominence.
The offensive numbers that Paul Westhead, Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, Jeff Fryar and the rest of those
Loyola Marymount teams put up are still mind-boggling. The Loyola Marymount Lions set the all-time
NCAA Division I record by averaging 122.4 points per game in 1990. They hung 181 points in one
incredible offensive display. To this day, games involving Loyola Marymount occupy the top five
places on the list of highest-scoring Division I games. Gathers led the nation in scoring and
rebounding in his junior season. Bo Kimble averaged 35.3 points a game the following year, which
also led the nation.
A hero is remembered, but a legend never dies. The run Loyola Marymount made in the NCAA
Tournament following the death of Hank Gathers remains one of the most enduring stories of my
lifetime. It made “The Hank and Bo Show” legendary.
After the NCAA Tournament committee showed not one ounce of compassion for the little school
from Los Angeles and seeded them #11 in the West despite their national ranking and largely due to
the death of their star. Loyola faced off against New Mexico State. It was just a regular game, until Bo
Kimble took his first free throw left-handed in honor of Hank. Swish. It was then that you looked into
the eyes of the LMU players and saw that a tournament run was forming. Bo Kimble absolutely
shredded the Aggies on that evening. Kimble would eventually parlay his college success into being
an NBA lottery pick. He never had the career so many expected out of him. However, one could argue
(and quite successfully) that after giving so much in that March, he had nothing left to give to the game
of basketball. It should be noted that in every tournament game, he shot his first free throw left-
handed. He never missed one of them.
The defending champion Michigan Wolverines were next. It was never even a contest. Jeff Fryar was
absolutely unconscious in that game. His eleven three-pointers still rank as the NCAA Tournament
Gold Standard. Bo Kimble hung another 40 something. The final was 149-115. It was awe-inspiring
offensive play. Sports Illustrated came out with the cover “For You Hank”. I’m not sure if there has
been a cover of any major magazine since then that rated so highly on the “Goosebumps” meter.
Now the thing to remember about NCAA Cinderella runs is that they generally end
in the Sweet 16 game. Raw emotion can carry you through the first two rounds.
However the week off is usually a cruel injustice to the underdog team. It’s too
hard for them to get back to playing at such a high level. Loyola Marymount’s
Sweet 16 opponent was Wimp Sanderson’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Wimp was a
savvy coach who knew a lot about how to slow up an offense. Wimp also knew a
lot about the female anatomy, as testified by University of Alabama female employees a couple years
down the road. In that game, Alabama tried to ugly it up. It worked, but not enough to trip up LMU. The
Lions prevailed in that game 62-60 which set the stage for a showdown with the Runnin’ Rebels of
In what was one of the most hyped Elite Eight contests ever, Loyola Marymount fought the good fight
but Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony & Co. would prevail and roll to the
national championship. The emotion of Hank’s death could only take the Lions so far. Eventually the
team that ran everybody they saw out of the gym met up with a squad that was talented and focused
enough to turn them back. It should be noted that the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are universally
considered one of the great college basketball teams of all-time.
It has been sixteen years since the days of Hank and Bo. It has also been sixteen years since Loyola
Marymount has made an impact on the national stage. It matters not, as the little school and its big-
time players gave us a month that will be remembered for a lifetime.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.