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March 02, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "SportsCenter Flashback: The Death of Hank Gathers"

When: Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN Classic

It's admirable that the producers of this special interviewed so many people involved with the Hank Gathers story and his death 10 years ago Saturday. The problem is, the producers were overzealous, interviewing too many and then trying to cram so much into one hour.

The result is a choppy documentary that at times loses its focus. There is too much reliance on interviews and too little on narration.

Of course, some of the interviews--maybe even most--are necessary. Gathers' high school and Loyola Marymount teammates provide a picture of a very likable and extremely talented athlete.

And reporters who covered the story provide details. Those interviewed include Chris Myers, who was head of ESPN's West Coast bureau; Mike Waldner, who covered the story for the Daily Breeze; and Ed Arnold, who was a sportscaster at Channel 5, where Gathers and best friend Bo Kimble had done a college internship. Arnold says even today he can't talk about Gathers without crying.

Maryann Hudson Harvey, who did follow-up stories and covered the ensuing legal battles for The Times, says, "At one point there were 29 attorneys and 10 legal firms involved in the mess."

There are also interviews with former USC coach Stan Morrison and assistant David Spencer, who successfully recruited Gathers and Kimble. But the viewer is left wondering exactly why the players left USC for Loyola Marymount. George Raveling, who replaced Morrison, is accused of taking away their scholarships. But Raveling is one person who is not interviewed. His side is never told.

Despite the flaws and holes, the special is worth watching. The story, 10 years later, remains a tragedy.

After the special, ESPN Classic will show the Loyola-Louisiana State game of Feb. 3, 1990, when the 6-foot-7 Gathers, going up against 7-footers Shaquille O'Neal and Stanley Roberts, scored 48 points in a 148-141 overtime loss.

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