By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SHORELINE _ As a player, Bo Kimble reached some of the greatest heights of basketball.
As a coach, he is starting at one of the game’s lowest rungs.
The 45-year-old Kimble was an outstanding college player who went on to be an eight-year pro, including three seasons in the NBA, before retiring in 1998. In the ensuing years he kept busy with a business and charity work, but he also came to discover — as so many former players do — just how much he missed basketball and how much he longed to return.
“I had a passion to coach,” he said, “and I almost did myself a disservice for all those years because I didn’t let people know.”
Kimble began putting out job feelers, but was told he lacked coaching experience. So he took a step of faith this season by agreeing to become a volunteer assistant coach at Shoreline Community College.
Even without a paycheck, he said, “this is a win-win. I get what I want, which is some coaching experience and the chance to follow my dream of someday becoming a head coach.”
And the Shoreline CC players and coaching staff, led by head coach Greg Turcott, “get what they want, which is to learn all the ins and outs of this great system.”
Ah, yes. The system, as played by Kimble and his teammates back in the late 1980s and early 90s at Loyala Marymount University, one of the most entertaining teams in college basketball history. Loyola Marymount, led by former NBA coach Paul Westhead (today the head women’s coach at Oregon), played an up-tempo style that ran up points and victories in big numbers.
Turcott, the former head coach at Kamiak and Archbishop Murphy high schools, was looking to implement a similar style at Shoreline CC this season and extended an invitation to Kimble.
“I can’t really put into words the impact he’s had,” Turcott said. “He really enjoys coaching, and I think he’s enjoying it much more than he thought he would. He loves being in the gym, he loves the interaction with the players, and he loves showing them how to play and how to get better.”
Even after being out of basketball for more than a decade, “you never lose your love and your passion for the game,” Kimble said. “And I’ve never really been away. I always watch NBA basketball. I always watch college basketball. And I try to play as often as I can when I don’t have a nagging back injury.
“Coaching is a great fit for me. The way I speak, the way I talk, the way I act, the way I dress, it’s all because of the great mentoring I had. It’s amazing all the people that had their hands on my life, and now I’m pretty much giving it back.”
Though a squad of mostly 18, 19 and 20 year olds is too young to remember Kimble the player, they can certainly appreciate his accomplishments in basketball, his considerable knowledge of the game and his affable coaching demeanor.
“He’s brought a lot to the team,” said freshman guard Anthony Edwards, who played at Lynnwood High School. “From perfecting our offense and our defense to perfecting us as players.”
Moreover, the up-tempo style “is the most fun I’ve had playing basketball,” Edwards said. “It’s fast breaking, pushing (the ball), press, press, press, trap, trap, trap. … You have the full freedom to do what you want on the court. My whole life it’s been, ‘Run the play, get the best shot.’ But now (the coaches) are saying, ‘Take any shot you like,’ and it makes basketball more fun.”
At Shoreline CC, which has won seven of its last eight games to improve to 16-9 this season, a typical offensive possession is 10-15 seconds after an opponent’s missed field goal, maybe 6-8 seconds after a made field goal, “and sometimes it’s just 2-3 seconds,” Turcott said.
“There are bad shots … but we’re not real choosy,” he added. “The first open look, we encourage them to shoot.”
Kimble is enjoying his opportunity at Shoreline CC this season, but admits he has further goals in coaching. “Being a head coach is something that’s very important to me,” he said, and in another 10 years he hopes to be “one of the winningest, highest-scoring coaches in college basketball.
“It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. But I know I’ll be a head coach eventually in college basketball and I know I’ll do well.”
For everything Kimble has accomplished in basketball to date, and for everything yet to come, he will perhaps be remembered best for his friendship with fellow Philadephia-bred basketball star Hank Gathers, and for the remarkable and ultimately tragic season of 1989-90.
Kimble and Gathers were childhood friends and high school teammates who went on to play college basketball together, first at USC and then at Loyola Marymount. The Lions, soon to become the highest scoring team in NCAA Division I history, were streaking toward a postseason filled with promise when Gathers collapsed and died of sudden cardiac arrest at a West Coast Conference Tournament game in early March.
The moment, seen in grainy video clips, is haunting even today. Gathers leaped to take a pass at the rim from a teammate and made a powerful dunk before turning to take up a defensive position. Suddenly his legs gave way and he collapsed. As teammates and medical staff rushed to his side, Gathers briefly tried to sit up, but then he laid back and was gone.
During the subsequent NCAA Tournament — the Lions reached the West Regional final before losing to eventual national champion Nevada Las Vegas — the right-handed Kimble shot the first free throw of every game left-handed in honor of Gathers. Kimble did not shoot a free throw in one tournament game, but his left-handed free throws in three other games were all good.
“Hank Gathers was an extraordinarily kind person,” Kimble said. “His greatest skill, other than on the basketball court, was his ability to make people laugh. And that’s what I miss the most about him. He was just full of life.
“Hank was really a special, special person, and the way both of us are still remembered is the most amazing thing. That connection is a wonderful thing and it’s something I’m very proud of.”
As much as Kimble has honored Gathers with words over the years, it was never enough. So Kimble helped begin the “44 For Life Foundation,” which strives to decrease death and disability from heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest. Forty-four was the jersey number worn by Gathers.
In a terrible irony, Kimble witnessed another man die of sudden cardiac arrest years ago. “I was just very upset that I didn’t know CPR,” he said, and he later vowed “that no one is ever going to go into sudden cardiac arrest without me having the chance to save their life.
“Now I’m a CPR instructor,” he said, “and our foundation is all about making defibrillators readily available everywhere there are large gatherings.”
Even as he prepares for new career opportunities in basketball, the foundation he helped start in memory of Gathers “is something I’ve dedicated my life to,” Kimble said. “I’m very passionate about educating people and saving lives. It’s the greatest work I’ve ever done.”