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Hank Gathers lives on in his house

Twenty years after he collapsed and died during a game, the Loyola Marymount star is remembered during a ceremony at the school.

January 31, 2010|Bill Plaschke

A hint was given two days later when, during Gathers' memorial service at Gersten, Kimble took the microphone and asked the crowd for "one last round of applause for Hank, here in his house."

The roar lasted two weeks.

Twelve days after Gathers' death, the Lions drove to Long Beach for a first-round game with favored New Mexico State. Gathers' memory was everywhere, his No. 44 stenciled on their jerseys, fans holding signs reading "Hank lives" and Westhead writing "the dream is alive" on the locker room blackboard.

"This is for you, Hank," Kimble said in a taped TV interview that ran before he shot his first free throw left-handed -- and swished it.

New Mexico State never had a chance, falling, 111-92.

Next up, defending champion Michigan, a game for which Westhead prepared his team by giving them each the same individual pep talk.

"Bo, bombs away . . . Jeff [Fryer], bombs away . . . Terrell [Lowery], bombs away."

So they did, setting 11 -- that's not a misprint -- NCAA tournament records in a 149-115 victory over the Wolverines.

"It's hard to put into words how much it changed all of us so quickly," Lowery says. "It was a tragedy that became, in some ways, a blessing."

Next up, a trip to Oakland, where the Lions' regional semifinal game against Alabama was CBS' centerpiece national game.

The Crimson Tide tried to slow the Lions, frustrating them so much that at one point, Kimble lost his cool and was assessed a technical foul. Knight quickly walked over to Kimble, grabbed his jersey, and pointed to the 44 stitching.

Message delivered. The Lions settled down enough to win the kind of deliberate game that folks thought they could never win -- 62-60 -- with an ending that confirmed there were other forces at work.

Guess who missed a long jumper for Alabama at the buzzer. Big Shot Robert Horry, that's who.

Only one victory from the Final Four, the Lions faced Nevada Las Vegas, a talented team that would eventually win the national championship.

By then, Kimble was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the Loyola Marymount bookstore was swamped with memorabilia orders and the regional final ticket was the hottest in the country. Even Las Vegas was caught up in the emotion, its players actually wearing black armbands in honor of their opponent.

"It was this big in the era before everyone used the Internet, before sports was so big everywhere," Lowery says. "Can you imagine how big it would be today?"

It was there the magic ended. The players were eventually too overmatched and too drained to do anything about it.

The score was Las Vegas 131, Loyola Marymount 101, the Rebels running away with the dream.

But not really. The players on that Lions team keep it alive even today, with Kimble running a "44 For Life" foundation and Lowery working in foster care and others find themselves in service to the community.

"This is something that will stay with us for a lifetime," Westhead says.

After their halftime ceremony Saturday, the former players put their hands together for another cheer, while in the stands, their team trailing by 15 points but hope never lost, the fans kept chanting, now and forever.

"This is Hank's House! This is Hank's House!"

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