RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

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RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by Stonehouse on Wed Mar 04, 2009 11:59 am

Hard to believe it was 19 years ago now... Gathers collapsed on the court playing against the Pilots in the WCC tournament. Here's an article I wrote for the Beacon on the 15th Anniversary of his death. RIP to the best college basketball player I've ever seen.

I can’t remember when I went to my first Pilot game at the Chiles Center. Maybe I was five, maybe six. I can’t remember what teams we played or what our record was over the years. Even though I’ve seen almost every game in each of the last 16 seasons, I can’t even remember the names of all the Pilot players of yesteryear.

But I can’t ever forget Hank Gathers.

And I can’t ever forget when he collapsed and died on the court – suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically – exactly 15 years ago to the day.

Just the name sends my memory back to 1990, when the Loyola Marymount Lions were the toast of the West Coast Conference (WCC) and a graceful, acrobatic and muscular 6’8” All-American center named Hank Gathers was the best basketball player I’d ever seen in my life. LMU had just beaten UP 123-106 (the second-highest scoring game in Chiles Center history) and my seven-year-old self could only watch in amazement.

Of course, I hated him because he beat my beloved Pilots, but young as I was I grasped that I had just experienced greatness. He was – he still is – the best player in WCC history this side of Bill Russell.

Gathers led the nation in scoring (32.7) and rebounding (13.7) as a junior. In his senior season, he led the Lions to a 26-6 record and a top-25 ranking. Though he only played three seasons at LMU (he transferred from Southern Cal after his freshman year), he is still the WCC’s career scoring leader with 2490 points. His team averaged (averaged !) 129.8 points per game in the ’89-’90 season. He was a sure-fire lottery pick and was brimming with the kind of hunger and talent that makes an NBA star.

And he was dead at 23.

No chance for March Madness glory. No chance for NBA stardom. No chance for his dream of becoming a sports announcer.

Gathers died on March 4, 1990, while playing Portland in the semi-finals of the WCC tournament. He had just slammed home a thunderous dunk to score his eighth point and give LMU an early 25-13 lead. He high-fived his teammate. He turned around to get back on defense. He crumpled to the floor, convulsing.

He was dead within minutes – the sold-out crowd in stunned silence, his teammates watching in horror, the Pilots circled in prayer.

The cause of death was an irregular heartbeat that caused him to faint during a game earlier in the season. Doctors cleared him to play and prescribed him medication to control the problem. But it wasn’t enough, and Gathers’ heart, the key to his dominance on the court, was ultimately his downfall.

The WCC tournament was cancelled and LMU, as regular season champs, were given the conference’s automatic bid. Though burdened with heavy hearts and a truly unfair 11 seed, the Lions captivated the country as they went all the way to the Elite Eight, finally falling to eventual champion UNLV. During that run, they set the tournament record (which they still hold) for points scored in a game, torching title hopeful Michigan 149-115. Emblazoned in the memory of all college basketball fans are Bo Kimble’s left-handed free throws done in tribute to the left-handed Gathers, Kimble’s former high-school rival from Philadelphia, college teammate and best friend. The normally right-handed Kimble didn’t miss a single one.

As the WCC tournament approaches this upcoming weekend, I truly hope they take a moment to honor Gathers on the 15th anniversary of his death. Those of us who were lucky enough to see him play know of the greatness that could have been – the NBA All-Star games, the TV commercials, the posters hanging on countless kids’ rooms.

But for me, I’m just happy and thankful I got to witness someone so special play. The confluence of supreme talent with a love of a game that Gathers embodied formed something beautiful, something unforgettable, even for a second-grader. I’ll cheer for my Pilots as long as I can still see the court or listen to the radio, but I have the feeling I won’t ever see another player quite like Hank.

R.I.P. Hank Gathers (2/11/1967 – 3/4/1990).

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by PilotNut on Wed Mar 04, 2009 12:10 pm

Awesome article, Stonehouse. It still rings just as true today; thanks for the tribute.

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by goldhelmet on Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:20 pm

Hank was truely a special player and that was such a unique and special LMU team. I think it's safe to say we won't see anything quite like it again.

A few years back I was fortunate enough to purchase a Hank Gathers autographed copy of "Street & Smith's" magazine with Hank on the cover in his LMU uniform. I will never sell it. That one is a keeper and will go in my "sports basement room" (a dream of mine), whenever I'm able to make that happen after I get it framed.

Hank is truely at the core of the WCC's realatively short but rich basketball history. RIP Hank. You were simply the best.

Thanks Stonehouse...great article. I was a basketball beat writer for The Beacon back in my day (before yours, lol, 1992-93). I'll never forget the first WCC tournament I went to as as a representative of The Beacon, at USF in 1993. It was one of the best experiences in my "sports life" ever. That was the tournament when Santa Clara upset Pepperdine to win the WCC title, led by an at the time unknown Canadian guard who won the tournmanet MVP. Santa Clara was the only team to offer Steve Nash a basketball scholarship. The Broncos were a perfect 13-13 on 3 pointers in the championship game, and, of course, went on to upset the University of Arizona and Damon Stoudamire in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But I digress...

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by MesaPilot1 on Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:25 pm

Suspect GoldHelmet share's some personal backround Suspect . That's great!!! Now can you give me some spelling and Sentence structure lesson's.
You must have been 21-26 year old college student,j/k. I'd make an Ira Brown or BYU mission joke but I'm abstaining on my polictically incorrect behavior. I'm on double secret 12 hour Probation .

The article was great, I really enjoyed him,and his game. Hat's off to Hank,Bo Kimble,etc... and the coach Paul Westphaul for such an entertaining BB era. cheers

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by goldhelmet on Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:50 pm

Mesa - You missed it by six years. I was actually a 32 year old graduate student. Yeah, I'm an old fart. But those were great times...

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by Geezaldinho on Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:04 pm

There are flyers on tables at the tournament for 20% off on preorders for a new book "Heart of a Lion".

Details at hankgathersbook.com

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by onetouchfutbol on Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:56 pm

I still can't believe that it happened...and on our floor. It's hard not to reflect on it every year around this time. Irregular heartbeat is one of the scariest things in all of sports. I mean, talk about an elite athlete. I'm glad that pro players are getting tested more regularly for it than they used to and are taking more precautions...

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by mattywizz on Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:35 pm

James, I am pretty sure it did not happen IN Portland. It was a tourney game against Portland but played elsewhere.

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by DaTruRochin on Sun Mar 08, 2009 1:59 am

Yeah, the tourney was actually hosted @ LMU that year if I recall correctly....

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by goldhelmet on Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:27 am

DaTruRochin wrote:Yeah, the tourney was actually hosted @ LMU that year if I recall correctly....

Correct, it did happen at LMU.

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by onetouchfutbol on Sun Mar 08, 2009 3:41 pm


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Hank Book

Post by IronLions on Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:23 am

There is a book coming out about him in the fall.

http://www.hankgathersbook.com/home_quotes.htm

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by mattywizz on Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:31 am

“If someone told me I had a fifty-fifty chance of dying if I ever played basketball again, I wouldn’t play. Hank would.”
- Bo Kimble

I don't read a lot of books, but I might have to pick that one up.

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Re: RIP Hank Gathers... 19 Years Ago Today

Post by MesaPilot1 on Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:36 am

Thanks IronLions,

Who's that player you guy's have who's eligible (Seton Hall?) whom I guess dominates all your other player's in Practice according to the Donk's at ESPN? I bet you guys are excited about him becoming eligible Very Happy and the others...Vinney,,etc...!!!


Beat the Zagettes you Lion's!!!


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