For Chris Knight, this is the night.
The Loyola Marymount sophomore is the player who will step in for Hank Gathers at center when the Lions play their NCAA opener against New Mexico State at Long Beach Arena.
Knight, a slender 6-foot-9 player known to teammates as "Blade," reacted so emotionally to Gathers' death March 4 that he declared last week that he would never play again after this season.
By the middle of this week, he had backed off a bit from that statement, saying he had not made a decision. But Knight clearly feels some weight on his shoulders, at least psychologically.
"It's something I'll decide later on. (Now) it's business as usual," he said. "I haven't put any pressure on myself. I'll do what Hank always told me to do--work hard."
Knight said he reacted so strongly last week because he had been waiting so long for Gathers to graduate and open up a position. Knight was one of the first players at the hospital after Gathers collapsed in a game against Portland, and he was one of the first to know when Gathers was declared dead.
Knight was one of Gathers' pallbearers this week, and in a way the flight to Philadelphia for the funeral was a guilt trip. "When it first happened, I was feeling guilty because I used to say, 'I can't wait till Hank leaves,' " Knight said. "I felt like I wished it on him. I don't know what I'll do after this."
Knight filled in capably when Gathers fainted in December and missed several games. As the team's tallest regular player, Knight is the best shot blocker and plays with a free-spiritedness that fits Paul Westhead's system well.
"The role will probably be hard for him emotionally," Westhead said. "He probably sees himself as Hank's replacement. It's not an enviable spot to be in. But his game's the same. Really, we'll have to rely on four or five fellows to play for us. He doesn't have to be concerned (with pacing himself). We encourage the reckless abandon."
Knight's biggest problem at Loyola has been a tendency to pick up quick fouls. "It's a different approach when you're starting," Knight admitted, "but the end of the season I wasn't having as much foul trouble, so I'm not concerned about it."
Knight, who was painfully slender as a redshirt freshman, has bulked up somewhat. "When he came he was 135; now he's up to 140," Westhead quipped. Knight is listed at 180 pounds.
At least this week, he's looking forward to returning to the hardwood. "This is like medicine for us," he said.
Teammate Tom Peabody said: "I have all the confidence Blade can get eight or nine boards."
About 100 Loyola Marymount cheerleaders--official and unofficial--greeted the basketball team when it arrived home late Monday night from Hank Gathers' funeral in Philadelphia. The fans chanted "L-M-U" and handed flowers to the players as they entered the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. The largest cheers were for Bo Kimble, now clearly the focal point of the team.
"That's nice," said one Loyola assistant coach. "That should help pump the guys up."
Said Peabody: "It shows what a big family it is here."
The Loyola Marymount campus radio station, KXLU-FM, will broadcast a half-hour tribute to Gathers starting approximately an hour before tonight's 8:45 tip-off. Student announcers Brian Berger and Keith Forman, who have broadcast every Loyola game this season, prepared the program. They will also air their usual pregame analysis with Bo Kimble.
Stat of the Week: Hank Gathers finished his college career with 2,723 points. Bo Kimble goes into tonight's game with 2,207 career points. Pepperdine's Tom Lewis finished his career with 2,050 points. The three were in the same recruiting class at USC and may be the only threesome recruited together to score more than 2,000 points each.
The hot Loyola Marymount baseball team, which has won seven of its last eight games, will open a three-game West Coast Conference series today against the University of San Francisco.
The Lions, 16-7 on the season, are in first place in the WCC at 6-2. USF, which has had injury problems, is in last place at 1-8. The Dons' season record is 6-12.
The Lions are paced by the hitting of Rick Mediavilla at .404. Tony Kounas, hitting .362, tops the team with 26 runs batted in, while Miah Bradbury and Tim Williams have 23 apiece. Left-hander Jon Willard leads the pitching staff at 6-1 with a 3.64 earned-run average.
The teams play at 2 p.m. today, then have an 11 a.m. double-header Saturday. The Lions close out their home stand Tuesday with a 2 p.m. non-conference game against Wisconsin.
Cal State Dominguez Hills' Fred Camarena entered the week leading the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in hitting at .443. He's in a tight race with UC Riverside's Pete Weber at .442 and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's Doug Noce at .421. . . . Deanne Yanai, a senior at Torrance High, earned All-Bay League basketball honors in leading the Tartars to a 16-11 record. She's the daughter of Dominguez Hills basketball Coach Dave Yanai.