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Memories of Hank Gathers, Madness, and Me

Discussion in 'All Other San Diego Sports' started by Deb, Mar 27, 2009.

  1. Deb

    Deb BoltTalker

    Jul 10, 2007
    This was written by a member here...a Bolts fan. We all copy and paste articles all the time...but this is a true story and while we are down to the Sweet 16, thought it would be nice to share ..my two families..here and SJ....turns out TrojanHorse's brother had the task of replacing the fallen Gathers in a story many remember like yesterday. Hope it touches you as much as it touched me.



    When I see the above photograph, it’s hard to believe 19 years have passed since it was first captured. The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the story told is dependent of the receiving eyes. The young may see it as just another cover, marking just another moment in the NCAA tournament. The longtime followers of the college game will see and remember one of the most tragic events in sports, and the heart warming conclusion. But through my eyes, I see two young men, one being UNLV forward Stacey Augmon, and the other being my brother, Loyola Marymount center, Chris Knight.

    In the photo, one man would win the national championship, with the other winning the hearts of a nation. 1990 marks the last time that a mid-major program would be seated on the hoops throne. It also marks the last time LMU would be on the basketball map.

    Hank Gathers is often described as one of the greatest college players of all time. I describe him as one of the greatest persons I’ve ever surrounded myself with. Raised on the tough inner city streets of Los Angeles, role models were few. But I often patterned myself after the kid that rose from the Philadelphia projects, doing all the right things to secure a better future.

    Hank Gathers
    February 11, 1967-March 4, 1990

    His death was sudden and tragic, and he passed doing what he loved most, which was performing on the court. And every year when March arrives, it takes me back to my seat in the Gersten Pavilion bleachers, where I will again watch him fall. It’s a journey back to some of the darkest days for myself and family. But at the same time, I can reminisce on the courage and desire of a team to fulfill a dream in honor of a fallen teammate.

    My brother was given the unfortunate task of replacing Gathers as the team’s starting center. Some will never be able to grasp how difficult it was, especially when no one on the roster wanted to ever play the game again. In a moment of death, love for the game was lost, and love for each other was intensified. It took a lot of persuasion just to put the ball back in their hands and the competitive drive in their hearts.

    Hank died during the opening round of the WCC tournament, and the remainder of the event was immediately canceled, with Loyola unanimously voted to receive the automatic bid to the Big Dance. The NCAA tournament committee couldn’t promise the program a good seeding, but did promise to keep the Lions close to home, which they did.

    As I’d always done, I traveled and followed the 11th seed Lions on their tournament journey. A team scrutinized for years over their conference and strength, embarked on a tournament run that wouldn’t end until they reached the elite 8, breaking records along the way. The national audience admired a group of men so dedicated to their goal, without knowing how much courage it took to ever suit up and lace their sneakers. They drew huge applause in nearby Long Beach for the opening games, but even more praise in the San Francisco Bay area for the round of sweet 16.

    On the plane bound for San Francisco, I wore my “LMU Basketball” shirt, which was available only to members of the team and coaching staff, given to me by my brother. Passengers pointed and cheered, as I walked the aisle to my seat. Walking across the San Francisco airport, the applause was more boisterous and in more numbers. Some travelers and airport employees would scream to my mother and I that “Hank is still here”and the dream will be fulfilled. And despite the caption on the cover of that Sports Illustrated magazine, the dream was captured and goals achieved.

    Before the death of Gathers, few in the country had heard of the tiny Catholic school or could tell you where it was located. Hank once said he passed on the NBA to stay his senior year at Loyola to put the program on the map. And sharing a city with basketball power UCLA, In 1990, he did.

    After plowing through New Mexico State, Michigan, and Alabama, preserving the memories became more important than any victory. Loyola Marymount played the Running Rebels in Las Vegas earlier that season, and had a good showing. At one point, the Lions led, and the Rebels were being run out of their own gym. But a bomb scare in the building seemed to change everything, delaying play and allowing the home team to catch their breath and power their way to victory.

    The rematch in the elite 8 was different. Hank Gathers was no longer a physical presence, and the team was still wrapped in the emotion of his death. Coach Paul Westhead had a choice to make, and he chose not to use earlier game footage as part of the team’s preparation, as it showed Gathers active on the court. The Lions went into the game blind, giving it one final push, and never quitting until the horn had sounded. UNLV went on to beat LMU by 30 points on that day, and advanced to the final four.

    A trophy can measure the strength of a program, but Loyola’s participation and success measured the hearts of men. From my experience, I know the latter is the greatest measure in life, and never was I so proud of my sibling than in this wake of circumstances.

    Time after time, I’ve told Deb I’d share this story with Sports Jabber. And with each attempt, I find it difficult to keep brief. Through my eyes, that picture covers more than a thousand words, as it’s an endless story, with the experience altering the lives of everyone surrounding it. I continue to carry it on my walk through life, implementing the occurrences as a tool for personal strength, and incorporating the lesson to students I now tutor and mentor.

    Another accomplishment from the spring of 1990 was the removal of any personal feelings of solitude. During some of the most dreadful times in my life, I move forward and on to reach my goals, because I know and feel…Hank’s still here. And with his guidance, as displayed by a group of heavy hearts beating in unison, nothing is unattainable, as long as one can dream.
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