1989-90 LMU Lions Triumphed After On-Court Death of Star Hank Gathers

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1989-90 LMU Lions Triumphed After On-Court Death of Star Hank Gathers
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If you were a basketball fan at Loyola Marymount University during the 1989-90 season, you were on top of the world.

Your LMU Lions were the talk of college basketball thanks to head coach Paul Westhead's Run and Gun offense, which was putting up 122.4 points a game.

In stars Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, best friends and high school teammates from Philadelphia, the Lions had two surefire NBA lottery picks that would fill up the stat sheet.

Gathers, a 6' 7'', 220 lbs. forward, averaged an astonishing 33 points and 14 rebounds the previous year.

While Kimble, a 6' 5", 190 lbs. guard would lead the nation with 35 points during the 1989-90 campaign.

As a student, you got a front row seat to the "Hank and Bo Show."

Throughout the '89-'90 season, the Lions took on the nation's best and didn't disappoint.

In December, Kimble had 53 points in a 117-113 win over Oregon State and their star guard Gary Payton.

Gathers had 48 points and 13 rebounds in a nationally-televised overtime loss against Shaquille O'Neal and LSU. The Lions even stayed competitive with UNLV and Oklahoma for the most part before running out of gas.

Even with those losses, you knew you were watching a special team.

You watched as the Lions cruised to a West Coast Conference regular season title. You marveled as Kimble hit a 35-foot jumper to defeat St. Joseph's in the Hank and Bo Show's triumphant return to Philadelphia. Scores of 150-119, 144-100, and 157-115 became routine. No one in the country seem to have an answer for Gathers or Kimble.

With the Lions hosting the WCC conference tournament at Gersten Pavilion, you just knew Hank and Bo would lead LMU to greatness in March.

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 4, it was business as usual as the Lions took on Portland in the WCC semifinal. You and 3,000 other Lions fans were up on your feet after a classic Gathers alley-oop. You watched as your hero hurried back to play some defense, smiling that ever-present smile of his.

But then, it happened.

As he ran to half court, Gathers' knees buckled, and he hit the court with a thud. Dazed for a moment, he tried to get back up but stumbled again and went into convulsions.

The once raucous crowd was silent.

You knew Gathers missed some games in December after having a fainting spell during a contest against UC-Santa Barbara, but the heart condition he was diagnosed with was supposed to be treatable. You thought for a second that he'd be alright.

But then you see doctors, trainers and teammates carry Gather's limp body on a stretcher out of the gym and knew it wasn't good.

The rest of the game was cancelled. You went back to your dorm with friends, glued to the television, waiting for any news on Gathers.

Two hours later, the news came.

Hank Gathers. LMU basketball star. Age 23. Dead.

The next two weeks was a whirlwind for you and the rest of the 4,000 student campus. The nation's media focused its eyes on Loyola after the tragedy, wondering if the little school that had taken college basketball by storm could recover from the unspeakable. 

Eleven days later, you were in Long Beach Arena, awaiting the start of the Lions' first round game against New Mexico State. Since the rest of the WCC tourney was cancelled, the Lions were given the conference's automatic bid as regular season champ and were given the 11th-seed in the West Region.

With your Hank Hankie and your No. 44 shirt, you watched nervously as the Lions struggled to keep their emotions in check. Kimble picked up four fouls in the first 15 minutes of the game. You wondered if the Lions had it in them to win one for Hank.

You got your answer in the second half.

In honor of his fallen friend, Kimble shot his first free throw left-handed, just like Gathers did.

Swish.

The Lions went from a 46-46 halftime tie to win 111-92.

In the second round, LMU faced defending champion and third-seeded Michigan. You just wanted a good effort.

Forty minutes later, you looked up at the scoreboard stunned. You couldn't believe your eyes.

LMU 149, Michigan 115.

The game seemed like a dream. Senior guard Jeff Fryer hit 11 three-pointers and LMU throttled a team one year removed from a national championship to reach the Sweet 16.

You now knew LMU was a team of destiny.

A week later, you once again find yourself shocked as you sit in Oakland Coliseum.

The fastest team in the nation was held to 62 points.

But instead of being distraught, you are once again celebrating.

Alabama only scored 60.

The Crimson Tide tried its darnedest to slow the game down. To their credit, the Lions only shot 34 percent.

It didn't matter. LMU just found a way to win.

Now Kimble and company were one game away from the Final Four. The unimaginable was within reach. Visions of Westhead rising up the National Championship trophy the next week in Denver danced in your head.

But then you realized who their Elite Eight opponent was.

The UNLV Runnin' Rebels were perhaps the best team in the country. They beat the Lions in the opening game of the season and were loaded with talent. UNLV featured stars Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt. And similar to LMU, they liked to push the tempo.

The dream ended that Sunday afternoon in Oakland, with the Rebels running away 131-101.

Though disappointed by the final score, you were still thankful for the year the Lions gave you and everyone else at Loyola, especially the last two weeks.

In the midst of tragedy, your team had triumphed.

As you walked out of the arena, you took satisfaction in knowing that somewhere, Hank Gathers was looking down at his team, smiling about his team's performance.

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