Shaken by the death of Loyola Marymount forward Hank Gathers, one of their closest friends, La Salle's Lionel Simmons and Doug Overton said the Explorers were dedicating their game Monday night to his memory.
"Hank meant a lot to us. I thought that Hank would want us to play, so we're going to go out and play as hard as Hank played, and hopefully we'll be able to overcome the adversity," Simmons said before the Explorers' game against Fordham, won by La Salle 71-61 for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.
Simmons scored 26 points, 18 in the second half. Overton had 10 points, and the two had five free throws in the final two minutes after Fordham had crept to within 64-61.
La Salle held a team meeting in Coach Speedy Morris' room after Sunday night's 106-90 tournament victory over Siena and decided to play for the conference title, wearing black armbands in Gathers' honor.
The bond between Gathers, Overton and Simmons was forged in the Sonny Hill League. Overton and Gathers played together at Dobbins Technical High School and Simmons was a rival from South Philadelphia High.
"Life certainly overweighs basketball tremendously," Simmons said, fighting back tears. "Being only 21, I could never imagine something like this happening. Now, I'll definitely approach life a lot differently. I won't take anything for granted. Hank was the strongest guy I ever saw, and what happened to him I can't even imagine."
Overton was told of Gathers' death by La Salle teammate Bobby Johnson Sunday night after leaving the court in the waning moments of the Siena game.
"We didn't know anybody who worked as hard to achieve the goals that he (Gathers) did and how hard he worked at his game," said Overton, who broke down when he heard the news and went to the locker room.
Simmons was told moments later.
"Bobby (Johnson) said, 'You're not going to believe what happened,' " said Simmons, who left the court crying in his mother's arms. "I never in my wildest dreams thought of something like that. When he told me I just kept saying, 'No! No! No!' "