THE DEATH OF HANK GATHERS : Spencer Sold USC on Work Ethic of a Philadelphia Kid

TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Spencer was on the telephone Monday, talking about Hank Gathers, when call-waiting signaled another incoming call. It was Bo Kimble.

"That was Bo and he needs me, so we have to make this conversation relatively quick," said Spencer, who recruited both Gathers and Kimble for USC, where they played their freshman seasons.

Spencer was courtside at Gersten Pavilion Sunday when Gathers, a senior at Loyola Marymount, collapsed at mid-court while playing against Portland. Spencer went to his friend's side and stayed with Gathers' family through the night as the tragedy unfolded.

Monday, less than 24 hours after Gather's death, Spencer still talks of Gathers in the present tense. At times, listening to Spencer, it's as though Gathers is still out on a court somewhere, still playing basketball.

But the reality of Gathers' death sounds painfully clear in Spencer's voice, as he struggles to speak of a man he likened to a little brother.

"Bo's having a hard time, but he's hanging in there, he's being strong," Spencer said. "I think he's doing well. But he needs some support. I need some support. We all need each other."

From early on, Spencer, who is from Philadelphia, said he hit it off with Kimble and Gathers. He first saw them play basketball at Dobbins Tech High in Philadelphia when they were juniors and he was an assistant coach for Stan Morrison at USC.

Morrison, who coached Gathers and Kimble at USC, said Spencer knew immediately the pair could be the foundation of a team.

"David said to me, 'There is one player who is extremely talented,' that would be Bo; 'and another who is the hardest-working player you could ever find,' " said Morrison, who now coaches at San Jose State.

"But it wasn't like Hank was some slug," Spencer said. "He is an extremely gifted athlete, who was very quick and very fast and jumped very high. But yes, he's the hardest-working guy I have ever been around."

Spencer said he also saw in Gathers a tremendous amount of pride, both on and off the court.

It was that pride, Spencer said, that drove Gathers to succeed.

"Anything that Hank undertakes, he goes at it with a desire to be the best," Spencer said. "You never see Hank where his hair wasn't combed and his clothes didn't look right. Even if he was going down to the corner, he wouldn't be caught looking bad."

Spencer works for Leonard Armato, an agent with whom Gathers, Kimble and Tom Lewis of Pepperdine were expected to sign this year at the completion of their college basketball careers.

"In all probability, it would have happened that Hank would have signed with Leonard, but it is against NCAA rules for him to sign prior to the completion of his final game," Spencer said.

"It is a real awkward thing. On one hand, because I'm working with Leonard, he couldn't come right out and say (he's going to sign). But on the other hand, anybody with any common sense could see that all things being reasonable, who else would he want--with me being there?

"There wasn't anything clandestinely going on. We are talking about a guy who comes over to dinner often and jokes with my wife."

Gathers, Kimble and Lewis' loyalty to both Morrison and Spencer was a major factor for their transferring to other schools when Morrison was fired by USC and replaced by George Raveling. Spencer also left and took a job at the Forum.

Gathers and Kimble transferred to Loyola and Lewis to Pepperdine.

"They felt betrayed by the university," Spencer said.

"I only coached Hank one year at USC, but I would characterize my relationship with Hank maybe as an older brother, someone he would seek advice from."

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