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Carrying the torch; St. Bonaventure freshman guard Jordan Gathers did not know his famous uncle, but he's happy to remind others if Hank Gathers' life and legend in college basketball

Leah Harden sees it most in the tenacity her son takes to the basketball court.

The unwavering work ethic he shows and absolute disdain for losing? She knows where Jordan gets those from, too.

Leah remembers her friend, Hank, being just like that.

"Hank hated to lose, and Jordan is the same way," Leah said. "When Jordan was young, he would cry if he lost a game, that's how mad he would be. He would cry real tears. I'd tell him, 'it's just a game,' but that tenacity and desire to win? That was Hank."

Jordan Gathers never did get to meet his uncle. He was still two years from being born when on March 4, 1990, Hank Gathers collapsed on the court in Loyola Marymount University's Gersten Pavilion and died shortly thereafter at a Los Angeles hospital. Gone at 23, but certainly never forgotten by college basketball fans.

The name Hank Gathers still resonates as the 22nd anniversary of that night approaches.

Jordan Gathers -- whose father, Derrick, was Hank's brother -- is doing his part to be sure of that. His Twitter name says it all: @44LivesOn, the jersey number worn by his uncle.

"Every time I go out there, I'm representing the name and the family," said Jordan, a freshman guard for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. "That inspires me and gives me that extra boost when I'm out here working, just to know that he put in the extra time and the extra effort.

"When you think of college basketball, he's one of the names you bring up."

Jordan knows this because, growing up in L.A., it's something he was reminded of constantly. After every game, it would be some form of "So, are you related to Hank?"

>Stories about Hank

Leah filled in the blanks. She told Jordan all the stories about his uncle, showed him the videos and newspaper clippings of that famous Loyola Marymount team. After Hank died in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, the championship game was canceled and the Lions were awarded the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. From there, they went on a captivating run, getting to within a game of the Final Four.

"People would always say 'your uncle was a great player, you remind me of him. The way you play, the way you hustle,' " Jordan said.

As Jordan's game progressed, first at the elite Loyola High School and later at powerhouse Woodland Hills Taft, so did interest from colleges. One of the first to come calling was Loyola Marymount.

Leah, however, was wary.

"When Loyola was looking at him I was not encouraging that," she said. "That's too much. There was so much positivity [around Hank's team], and then for it to end the way it did. I didn't want Jordan to have to go through that, to be asked all the questions. It was just too much."

Jordan has played in "Hank's House" plenty of times in high school and AAU games.

"I've actually had great games in that gym. It's emotional, I see my uncle up there. It's like he's watching me, so I try to play my best every time I step on the floor."

Still, it's not easy to make a name for yourself when those who hear it think of someone else.

Leah didn't have anything to worry about, though, because Jordan was ready for a fresh start. "I've always wanted to play on the East Coast, ever since I was little," Jordan said. "I wanted to have a new life experience."

The daughter of an Air Force veteran, Leah lived all over the East Coast as a kid. That meant plenty of summer trips to visit family when Jordan was young. On one of those trips, to New York, he played in a game at the legendary Rucker Park in Harlem.

"He's like, 'they foul you real hard and the referees don't even call anything,' " Leah said, laughing at the memory. "I'm like, 'yeah, basketball is tougher here.' You've got to have tough skin. So he had a little bit of exposure to basketball on the East Coast, and he liked it."

>Gathers falls for Bona

To get ready for the Division I level, Jordan spent last season at Rise Academy, a prep school in Philadelphia. He averaged 19 points per game -- in the heart of Atlantic 10 country -- and was noticed by Bona coach Mark Schmidt.

"He stressed to me that he wanted to win and we had a great team, a great recruiting class coming in, so I wanted to be a part of it," Jordan said. "I came out here for my visit and I fell in love. It's a great academic environment. The Atlantic 10 is a competitive league. I knew it was going to be able to get my game better and I was going to grow."

Of course, playing in Olean means being 2,500 miles from home, from Leah. A high school player herself, Leah taught Jordan the game. She's the single mom who made the sacrifices, who carted Jordan around to all those AAU tournaments.

"It's definitely tough. I make sure I talk to my mom every day, let her know how I'm doing. I'm her oldest son and being away, she worries a lot," he said. "I make sure to call back home and let her know I'm doing well and making her proud on the court and in school."

Jordan also has a half-brother, D.J. Rivera, who currently plays at Division II Montevallo in Alabama.

Jordan and his father are not as close. Derrick Gathers lives in Philadelphia and was not around when Jordan was growing up. Last year at Rise, Jordan spoke once or twice with his dad about Hank's legacy.

"He shared a couple of memories he had," Jordan said. "They were really close, so he got emotional when he would talk about it."

It's clear the relationship between Jordan and his father remains a work in progress. They haven't talked much during the season.

"I still respect and love him, I'm just closer with my mother," Jordan said. "I'm focusing on the task I have in front of me."

Right now, that's finding a way to contribute to a Bonnies team in the thick of the A-10 race. At 9-5 in the conference, Bona is tied for third, fighting hard for a top-four seed and automatic bye into the conference tournament quarterfinals in Atlantic City, N.J.

Jordan is likewise fighting to establish himself, playing about 10 minutes a game, largely in a defensive-stopper role, and averaging 1.3 points.

He'll compete with Charlon Kloof to start next season at point guard.

"I think I've grown," Jordan says. "The game is much, much faster [than high school]. I'm trying to get better every day, listening to the coaches and taking their criticism."

The comparison to Hank's career comes naturally. His college experience was not an immediate success. Hank played his freshman year at Southern California, after which his coach, Stan Morrison, was fired.

>Uncle's legacy a click away

Hank sat out the 1986-87 season with LMU before ultimately developing into the nation's leading scorer (32.7 ppg) and rebounder (13.7) as a junior, the season before his death.

"His year at USC was not that great," Leah said, "so he had plenty of motivation at LMU."

The legacy lives on. The YouTube clips of those high-flying Lions are just a click away. Jordan is aware of this.

"He wants to make a name for himself, of course, but I think he does not want people to ever forget his uncle," Leah says. "I don't think as he played [when he was younger], it was a comparison, until now that he's playing college ball.

" There really should be no comparison. Hank was 6-7 and a forward and Jordan is a guard and 6-3. I don't think there's pressure on Jordan to live up to Hank's name. I think he's proud of it and wants it to continue."

And what about the number? Will 44 indeed live on?

It's currently occupied by star senior Andrew Nicholson, one of the best ever to play for the Bonnies.

"I kind of joked around with Andrew and was like, 'Let me have your number, man.' He was like, 'I've had it for three years.' So I said 'Yeah, go out and play hard your last year in that number.' I'll make that decision as the seasons go on."

Jordan wore 44 once, during his senior year at Taft.

He admitted to being a little disappointed it wasn't available with the Bonnies, but "I have the last name, so it wasn't that big of a deal."

Jordan thinks a lot about what Hank might say if he got a chance to see him play. The words are poignant.

"Play hard, like it's your last game. Every time you're out there, play with passion, drive and determination."

email: jskurski@buffnews.com