Since Loyola Marymount returned to the basketball court after the death of star Hank Gathers, Coach Paul Westhead has consciously tried to maintain a businesslike attitude and show little of his personal emotions.
He was so wrapped up in Friday's NCAA opening-round game against New Mexico State that he was caught by surprise when Bo Kimble went to the foul line in the second half and set up to shoot left-handed.
Kimble had announced that he would shoot his first free throw lefty to honor his friend Gathers, who tried his foul shots left-handed this season.
"Before the game it was calm," Westhead said this week. "I think the players felt: 'Finally, something we can do for relief. Finally, the event.' I was so involved in the game, the only time I got caught (off guard) was when Bo went to shoot the left-handed free throw. Everything came back to me. It really was the moment of dedication--this is what we stand for."
The highly partisan record crowd of 12,200 at Long Beach Arena was caught up in the emotional moment as Kimble toed the foul line and calmly sank the free throw, then was embraced by the other Loyola players on the floor. Their teammates on the bench jumped along the sidelines.
"I never wanted a shot to go in so much in my life," Westhead said. "Then there was this whole release of energy."
Kimble repeated the shot--and swished it again--Sunday in the second-round victory over Michigan. "The act itself is a terrific remembrance of his friend," Westhead said. "I hope Bo doesn't feel he has to make it every time."
Westhead conjectured that part of the reason his team has steamrolled through the tournament is that the Lions don't really care about the results. They're playing more for Gathers than for the W.
Can the Lions sustain their emotion and their dominance? "I don't know," Westhead replied. "What could crack it would be (that) if they really begin to think they are good, they'll begin to care again. When you care, you're in trouble."
Westhead went to the Final Four as a senior at St. Joseph's in 1961, with a team coached by Jack Ramsay. So far, he said, he hasn't even begun to think about this team reaching the Final Four. The Lions play a third-round game at 5:25 today against Alabama in Oakland Coliseum.
"I have not made any projection," Westhead said. "Really, I don't care. It really doesn't matter. Normally I'm as hungry (for the win) as the next guy. Now it's different. Initially we just wanted to play as a dedication to Hank Gathers. I was scared for (the team), but they pulled it off. After that, it really doesn't matter."
Westhead calls this curious attitude "uncaring caring"-- operating on a different plane of consciousness where the body is responding more by reflex than by intellect. He said: "I think I've picked up on the spirit of the players. They want to go out and get after it. (The victory) doesn't matter. They're just playing the game. I'm just coaching the game."
That has proved to be a record-setting approach.
One of the pleasant aspects for Loyola in the tournament has been the emergence of freshman center-forward Chris Scott, whose playing time has increased due to the death of Hank Gathers.
With several teammates in foul trouble, the slender 6-foot-8 Scott played his best half of the season Friday in the NCAA opener against New Mexico State. He came off the bench, confidently hit three shots and grabbed four rebounds in the first half to help the Lions stay in the game when it appeared the Aggies were taking control.
On Sunday, against Michigan, Scott held his own against the Wolverines' rugged front line and drew several offensive charges.
Scott missed the early part of the season with a broken thumb and averaged 1.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in limited action.
Westhead said he has seen Scott coming on in practice lately. "This is not a big surprise to me," he said. "I've had the feeling Chris was a gamer. I've been telling (starting forward) Per Stumer for the last month, he better watch out, Scott's after his job. (Against Michigan) Chris put on a clinic on how to draw the charge."
A T-shirt featuring a sketch of Hank Gathers' last dunk and the caption "The Dream Is Alive" will be on sale today around Gersten Pavilion on the Loyola Marymount campus, and at tonight's game at the Oakland Coliseum as well, for $10. Proceeds from sales, sanctioned by the school, will go to the Gathers Memorial Fund. The shirt was designed by Loyola graduate Sylvia Hoo with the financial backing of Kevin Sullivan, Chris Elliott and Mario Muxo. Playa Screen Printing donated the screens.