Hank Gathers, one of the best college basketball players of all time, never got the chance to showcase his impressive skills at the pro level. His death of cardiac arrest at age 23 in 1990 shocked and saddened basketball fans throughout the United States.
Thirty years later, Loyola Marymount University will honor the Lions legend with a statue outside its home gym, Gersten Pavilion. The university announced last week that the statue will be unveiled on Feb. 29 before the Lions’ final home contest of the season, a West Coast Conference clash with the University of San Francisco.
Ex-LMU bench boss Paul Westhead, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to their 1979-80 NBA title (Magic Johnson’s rookie season), and the 1989-90 Lions squad are scheduled to attend the event. The school is set to honor the team during a halftime ceremony.
Cause of death
Hank Gathers was diagnosed with heart problems (an abnormal heartbeat) during his senior season. He collapsed on the court on March 4, 1990, in a WCC Tournament game against the University of Portland. (That also happened on Dec. 9, 1989, in a game against the University of California, Santa Barbara.)
Gathers was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. An autopsy later showed that a heart-muscle disorder caused his death.
Hank Gathers: a two-way force
In his junior season, Hank Gathers averaged 32.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in 1988-89, leading the NCAA Division I in both categories. Wichita State’s Xavier McDaniel, who averaged 27.4 points and 15.0 rebounds in the 1984-85 season, was the only other player to accomplish the feat.
As a senior, Gathers averaged 29.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
The Philadelphia native began his college career at USC in 1985. He and ex-Dobbins Technical High School teammate Bo Kimble transferred from USC to LMU and had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. As sophomores, they began to put their stamp on the LMU program. They thrived in Westhead’s breakneck pace basketball, which used a full-court press to bewilder opponents.
Gathers scored 22.5 ppg as a sophomore. It was a sign of things to come.
Honoring an icon
In June 2019, the university announced that a Hank Gathers statue would be unveiled outside its arena. This month, the school revealed more details.
In recent years, there have been poignant remembrances of Hank Gathers, including from the Los Angeles Times and Bleacher Report, among others.
The Los Angeles Times also published a lengthy reaction piece from Hank Gathers’ hometown after his passing.
The 1989-90 LMU Lions remain a cultural touchstone. Which is one reason many people recall the tragedy of Hank Gathers’ death and the team’s subsequent run to the Elite 8.