Family of Philly basketball legend Hank Gathers look to honor his legacy in TBT 2020

 

By: Gabe Maturo


The former LMU star tragically passed away in 1990

It’s been 30 years since the tragic death of college basketball star Hank Gathers. Still, to this day, the Philadelphia community feels the impact he left behind.

That's why this summer his family has organized Team Hank Gathers for TBT 2020. Not only are they looking to honor his legacy on the court, but everything his name represents to the city he loved so dearly.

“We thought that it was time for us to do something to honor Hank in light of it being 30 years since his passing,” said DJ Rivera, nephew of Hank and guard for Team Hank Gathers. “We are playing for my uncle and to represent his name.” 

It was March 4, 1990, in a West Coast Conference (WCC) Tournament semifinal game against the University of Portland. Hank Gathers passed away on his homecourt at Loyola-Marymount University from heart-muscle disorder hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 

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Hank’s passing was a tragedy to the family, the city of Philadelphia, and all of college basketball.

“It was a tragedy,” said Derrick Gathers, Hank’s brother and head coach of Team Hank Gathers. “When he passed away, it hit the city like a pandemic. It was a tragedy. Everyone was broken up and hurt. He meant so much to us. He was the savior for North Philly.”

At the time, Gathers was one of two players in college basketball history to have led the nation in scoring and rebounding. He was also preparing for the NBA Draft, as scouts and teams from all across the league were watching him on a nightly basis.

Gathers grew up in the projects in North Philadelphia. Basketball was not just a passion for him and his brother growing up, but a lifestyle.

“The competition between us started at a very early age,” said Derrick Gathers. “We grew up in the projects. We had it rough. My mom was a single mom. Me and Hank were very competitive ever since we were in diapers.”

The competitive edge that drove Hank and Derrick throughout their childhood carried with them at Dobbins Technical High School. They made it to the Philadelphia Public League Championship Game in back-to-back years, winning the title in 1985.

Hank then committed to USC, but transferred to Loyola Marymount after one year. At LMU, he became the schools’ all-time leading scorer and led the team to two WCC championships and three NCAA Tournament appearances.

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“Hank made Loyola Marymount the program that it is today,” said Derrick Gathers. “He put Loyola Marymount on the map. He did everything for that school.”

Gathers didn't just smash records everywhere he went, but created a long-lasting legacy for himself that will never be forgotten. He was a highlight reel all throughout his career, known for his tough play on defense and electric alley-oops. 

“He was special,” said Derrick Gathers. “It was a sight to see. It was a highlight. Everybody wanted to see Hank play. Hank loved dunking. He wanted to dunk on somebody.” 

Most importantly, he left a huge impact on his family and on the city of Philadelphia.

“He was the city,” said Jordan Gathers, nephew of Hank and guard for Team Hank Gathers. “When he passed away, a part of the city passed away as well. The impact that he left behind was tremendous.”

In Philadelphia, the Hank Gathers Rec Center is a popular spot for local pickup games.

“A lot of the best pickup games in the city live in the Hank Gathers Rec Center,” said Derrick Gathers. “You can feel my brother’s presence as soon as you step foot in the Rec Center.”

Derrick is not only the head coach of Team Hank Gathers, but also the centerpiece of the foundation he opened to honor his brother and give back to the city of Philadelphia. The Gather Around Foundation helps the local youth, single moms, and kids with special needs. If the team wins TBT, a portion of the winnings will be donated to the foundation.

 

The team features Hank’s niece-in-law Vanisha Rivera as GM, brother Derrick as head coach, and nephews Jordan and DJ as players.

Jordan played college ball at Saint Bonaventure and Butler. DJ plays professionally for Al Ahli Sadab in the Oman First Division league and played college hoops at Saint Joseph’s University, Montevallo University, and Binghamton University, where he led the America East in scoring.

Both Jordan and DJ look to their family toughness and basketball experience to guide them in this tournament.

 

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity,” said Jordan Gathers. “I can’t wait to play for my father and play with my brother at the highest level. It’s a great way for our family to honor Hank.”

Team Hank Gathers isn’t just looking to honor his name, but the tough and physical style of play that he played with.

“We wanted guys who have heart and who can get loud and get the crowd going,” said DJ Rivera. “We needed guys who would compete and play with the style that Hank played and go out there and give it their all from start to finish.” 

“44 forever.”