Dr. Naismith, can you hear me? If you can, by now you no doubt know what happened in Los Angeles on Jan. 31. Loyola Marymount, a modest, serene Catholic school, clobbered visiting U.S. International. The score—maybe we can somehow fax you the box, because you probably don't believe it—was 181-150. That's right. The 331-point total was the highest in hoops history—pro or college—and the Lions smashed the NCAA record for most points scored by a team. (Loyola Marymount and UNLV had shared the previous mark of 164 points.) The teams averaged a shot every 11 seconds. Watching the game was sort of like watching a two-hour Road Runner film festival: lots of things happen, but darned if you can remember many of them afterward. The chief beneficiary of Loyola Mary-mount's rapid-fire style of play is their remarkable junior center, Hank Gathers, who has put up some pretty outrageous numbers of his own. At week's end he was leading the nation in both scoring (33.5 points per game) and rebounding (14.3) averages. Only one other player—Wichita State's Xavier McDaniel in 1984-85—has ever finished the season No. 1 in both departments. Against U.S. International, Gathers had 41 points and 29 rebounds.
You never thought the game should require much strategy. Doc, but it's hard to know what you would make of Lion coach Paul Westhead. He's a Shakespearean scholar who revved the Los Angeles Lakers up to their 1979-80 NBA title. During his 3½ seasons with Loyola Marymount, he has favored a system of organized chaos that calls to mind a fourth-grade recess. The Lions use a man-to-man press to force a helter-skelter pace, which they sustain with a relentless fast break. Westhead wants the Lions to get 20-plus offensive rebounds, force 25 turnovers and take at least 100 shots per game. Against U.S. International they had 28 offensive rebounds, forced 27 turnovers and took 119 shots; on the season, they were averaging 19.4, 20.4 and 88.8 through last week. West-head thinks a 200-point game is a real possibility and says with a straight face that his club may one day pile up 240. You remember that opener you organized back in 1891, Doc? Yep, only one goal, and the teams had nine on a side.
The Lions, who were 13-8 after beating the University of San Diego 139-104 on Saturday night, are almost as adept at surrendering points as they are at racking them up. At week's end they were giving up 109.8 per game while averaging 114.3. In a 116-104 loss to St. Mary's on Friday, Loyola Marymount made the Gaels' offense look like a layup line. Still, after the game Westhead said, "We had an offensive problem rather than a defensive problem." Go figure, Doc.
Whatever you may think of West-head's crazy ideas, Gathers is surely the type of player you envisioned when you created basketball, a game you said was for "the tall, graceful, expert and agile athlete." He's a nice kid, too.
Gathers comes from rugged North Philadelphia, where to be able to score is to be able to dream. Your little diversion, as you called it, Doc, helped lift him out of Philly's Raymond Rosen projects. He used to walk home from practice at Dobbins Tech and stare up between the buildings into the night sky. "I was thinking, I got to get out of here," he says. "This is not it." In '85 Gathers and Dobbins teammate Bo Kimble enrolled at Southern Cal.
Things soured at USC for Gathers and Kimble when coach Stan Morrison resigned after their first season. Gathers, Kimble and two other talented freshmen wanted a voice in the selection of Morrison's successor but weren't given that opportunity. When George Raveling got the job, communications between the athletic department and three of the four players, including Gathers and Kimble, broke down. The three lost their scholarships.
The Reverend Dave Hagan, a Catholic priest from North Philly and an adviser to Gathers and Kimble, suggested they look up Westhead, a friend of his also from Philly. They did, and Westhead showed them a videotape of a Loyola Marymount game. "We thought they had edited it, speeded it up, just to impress us," says Gathers. "We asked, 'This is a real game?' " Assured that it was, they switched schools and, after sitting out a year, helped lead the Lions to a 28-4 record in 1987-88.
Gathers, who at 6'7" and 210 pounds is Loyola Marymount's strongest inside player, is a 60.1% shooter because he seldom fires from beyond 10 feet. He uses his power and quickness to pogo off the floor for follow-ups and to crash menacingly through the lane as the trailer on breaks. The pros question his ability to score outside, but Gathers, who may skip his senior year, figures he will prove he can do that when he has to.
"I don't care much about the points," says Gathers. "In fact, I should lead the nation in scoring because of my rebounding. Anybody can score 30 points a night if that's what he's concentrating on. But rebounding is special because it comes from the heart."
Gathers's heart is still in Philadelphia. He returns there every summer to hit the gyms. "Philly is where the hard-nosed basketball is, the hard-nosed atmosphere," says Gathers. "It made me the player that I am and the person that I am."
The style Gathers plays at Loyola Marymount is a lot like the playground game he played growing up. "A run in Philly would be just as hard and up-and-down as the ones here," he says. "But you don't get any picks, and you don't get any foul calls in Philly."
Besides a little recreation at the local Y, Doc, just what did you have in mind a century ago? Can you accept a team that makes you pull out a calculator to keep score, that turns a better-than-average Joe into an unstoppable scoring and rebounding machine? Let us know, please. Doc, and soon, because Loyola Marymount may reach 240 any day now. If that happens, maybe we should go back to nine men on a side.