Bo Kimble, who led the nation in scoring as a senior at Loyola Marymount in 1990, is an unpaid assistant coach at Shoreline Community College. He's helping the team learn the fast-paced system he played in college.
This left-handed free throw, a creative tribute to a fallen friend forged by a combination of whimsy and grief, remains one of those moments frozen in time in college basketball.
In 1990, in a first-round NCAA tournament game against New Mexico State, just days after his best pal and fellow Loyola Marymount All-American Hank Gathers had collapsed and died of heart failure in a conference tournament game, Bo Kimble, who is right-handed, honored his fallen friend by shooting his first free throw left-handed.
The shot went in.
“At the time, I couldn’t care less if that ball went in or not,” Kimble said this week, sitting in the basketball coaches office at Shoreline Community College. “I was grieving and this was just my way of saying, ‘I love you, Hank.’ It was supposed to be a brick, just like Hank shot. That fact that it went in is just amazing. Why did it go in? It was just one of those things that was meant to be.”
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That March run by Loyola Marymount in the 1990 tournament remains one of the most remarkable journeys in the history of the game. Playing without Gathers, the Lions beat New Mexico State, beat defending champion Michigan and powerful Alabama.
Playing a high-speed game that seemed to defy all basketball logic, Loyola Marymount averaged 106 points in its four tournament games and got all the way to the West Region final before losing to eventual national champion UNLV.
Twenty-one years later, Kimble, who led the nation in scoring in 1990, averaging 35.3 points, is back in basketball, helping Shoreline coach Greg Turcott revive what they call “The System.”
“I really needed someone who was an expert, and Bo’s the expert,” Turcott said. “And what he’s brought to us, just a lot of little things he sees in what we’re doing, has been phenomenal.”
Strength and conditioning coach Joe Cairo says Kimble’s arrival in Seattle is “like a harmonic convergence.”
One day early in the process of remaking Shoreline’s basketball team, Cairo forwarded to Turcott a LinkedIn address for Kimble.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, Turcott sent Kimble an email inviting him to come to Seattle from Philadelphia and talk to his team about the commitment needed to play this way. He got more than he could have wished for.
Kimble, 45, had been working as a real estate developer, specializing in low-income housing. He was a motivational speaker and had started a charity, “44 For Life,” a tribute to Gathers, which promotes heart-related health.
But he missed the game and had been waiting for the right opportunity to get into coaching. Sight unseen, Kimble made Turcott an offer. Why not spend the rest of the season with the team and really teach the system as an unpaid assistant coach?
“It was like asking Betty Crocker to come here and teach you how to bake a cake,” said Shoreline’s freshman wing, Anthony Edwards.
“It’s been great for me,” Kimble said. “I can’t thank Greg enough for giving me this opportunity.”
The System has been reborn in a community college gym just north of Seattle.
“You have to be a little crazy to run this,” Turcott said. “You give up a lot of control. You’re going to give up layups and you’re going to make some turnovers. But you never stop. Keep trapping. Keep pressing. Keep rotating. In the two-and-a-half weeks he’s been here, Bo’s taught us a lot of that.”
The System is all about tempo, playing the game at warp speed, gambling on defense, pressing full court the entire game, creating controlled chaos. It is designed to suck the energy out of the opponents’ legs.
“You want to get the ball up the court as fast as humanly possible,” Kimble said. “The idea is to maximize your conditioning. You never have to adjust your game plan. Your opponent will adjust theirs. If you run The System properly, there will be a breakdown period where even the greatest of athletes are not used to that pace. The System is a neutralizer. It levels the playing field.”
This is egalitarian basketball. Two decades ago, under coach Paul Westhead, Loyola Marymount beat teams that had superior athletes. They won by outrunning those teams.
“You get teams playing at a pace they’re not accustomed to playing,” Kimble said. “As the games go on, they get weaker, you get stronger and you can pretty much take the candy from the baby.”
Fall practices, before Kimble arrived, started outside, not in the gym. There were no basketballs, just punishing laps around the track. Players had to run two timed 800 meters, two 400s and four 200s.
There was attrition. There were some growing pains. But Shoreline is beginning to embrace The System.
“At the beginning, people were getting mad. Didn’t want to run it,” said freshman forward Earlie Dixon. “I’m thinking in my head, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But now I feel like we could play a whole game and then play another game right after that and still make the other team tired. By the second half you can tell their (opponents’) legs are gone.”
The Dolphins are 6-5, winners of three of their past four, and are averaging 103.1 points.
“I didn’t know if this would work,” Turcott said, “but I sure wanted to try it. I thought it was the right system for the kind of player we get at Shoreline. It’s fun, really fast and exciting.”
And it’s part of Bo Kimble’s enduring tribute to his best friend.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com