The Ghosts of College Basketball Past | The Shadows of Kimble and Gathers Loom Over USC

In the fall of 1985, a pair of heralded Philadelphia prep stars made the cross-country trek to L.A., eager to turn the fortunes of the basketball program at football-first USC.  

During their opening campaign for the Trojans, Bo Kimble was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game while Hank Gathers added 8 points per contest. But with USC stumbling to an 11-17 mark one year after winning the Pac-10 title, coach Stan Morrison was fired and replaced by Iowa coach George Raveling. 

At his opening press conference, Raveling addressed discontent in the USC program, especially among a group of underclassmen who had vocalized their support for other candidates.  

“You can’t let the Indians run the reservation,” Raveling told the media. “You’ve got to be strong, too. Sometimes you have to tell them they have to exit.”

Raveling reportedly directed a quartet of freshmen, including Kimble and Gathers, that they had a month to commit to the program. When Gathers and Kimble didn’t, Raveling informed them that their scholarships would not be renewed.  

Without a home, the Philly-bred duo transferred to Loyola Marymount. There, Kimble and Gathers pushed the long-overlooked West Coast Conference (WCC) program into the nation’s consciousness by executing coach Paul Westphal’s run-and-gun style – “The System” – to perfection.  

Gathers led the nation in scoring as a junior, Kimble as a senior. Gathers was the WCC’s Player of the Year as a junior; Kimble earned the distinction as a senior. The duo powered the Lions to three NCAA Tournament appearances and both were named All-Americans in 1990. 

While Kimble and Gathers flourished at LMU and elevated the profile of the L.A.-based Catholic school, USC’s struggles across town largely continued. In Raveling’s eight seasons at USC, the Trojans only made two NCAA Tournament appearances. 

(Sadly, Gathers died of a heart condition after collapsing on the court during a first-round WCC Tournament semifinal game against Portland. Kimble led an inspired Lions squad into the NCAA Tournament, where they ran through New Mexico State, defending champion Michigan, and Alabama before falling to eventual champion UNLV in the Elite Eight.)