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USU basketball: Mike Williams' heroism and shadows of the past

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 3:10 p.m. MST

Hank Gathers, one of only two Division I players to lead the nation in scoring and rebounding in the same season, is attended to by team and game officials after collapsing during Loyala Mary Mount's West Coast Conference tournament game against Portland in Los Angeles on March. 5, 1990. (Daily Breeze, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Hank Gathers, one of only two Division I players to lead the nation in scoring and rebounding in the same season, is attended to by team and game officials after collapsing during Loyala Mary Mount's West Coast Conference tournament game against Portland in Los Angeles on March. 5, 1990. (Daily Breeze, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

When I heard of what happened to Utah State forward Danny Berger, my thoughts immediately went to Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount standout who passed away in the middle of a basketball game in 1990.

Gathers had been diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat but hated to take medication, preferring to play a risky game against time and his body. LMU's playing style compounded the risk Gathers undertook; Marymount's style of play was by far the fastest in the country at the time.

On March 4, 1990, Gathers collapsed during a game and didn't get back up. His heart stopped. An AED was used. CPR was performed. The ambulance arrived and carried him off the court on a stretcher. Both players and fans were in shock. Gathers' teammates wept.

Sound familiar?

There are significant, obvious differences between Berger and Gathers. Gathers knew his body was broken — Berger did not. In fact, we still are waiting to hear why exactly Berger collapsed, whether it's a heart condition or something else.

Jess Gomez, spokesman for the Intermountain Medical Center, speaks to reporters about Danny Berger's medical status at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Wednesday. Berger, a Utah State University basketball player, collapsed during practice Tuesday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Jess Gomez, spokesman for the Intermountain Medical Center, speaks to reporters about Danny Berger's medical status at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Wednesday. Berger, a Utah State University basketball player, collapsed during practice Tuesday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Also, Gathers passed away. Thanks to USU athletic trainer Mike Williams, Berger narrowly averted that fate.

Indeed, the vigilant and steady Williams is to be lauded as a hero for his actions.

Thousands of fans attend local college basketball games, many of them kids. To those fans, the athletes and coaches they see on the floor are heroes. Incidents like what happened to Berger, however, give us perspective on why we play the games we love, and, as ESPN writer Andy Katz writes, remind us about what a real hero is.

"Too often we hear about a heroic play in sports, but the term shouldn't be used unless it's heroism in its truest form. A dramatic play, even playing with an injury, isn't heroic. Saving lives on the battlefield, dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the seconds after an explosion, running into a burning building or putting your life at risk for someone else is heroism. So, too, is what first responders do every day in dealing with life-saving situations on the road, in hospitals and anywhere else.

In this file photo taken Feb. 15, 1990, Loyola Marymount basketball teammates Hank Gathers, left, and Bo Kimble pose together before practice at the university's gym in Los Angeles. Gathers collapsed during an NCAA college basketball game against Portland on March 5, 1990, and later died. (Douglas C. Pizac, ASSOCIATED PRESS) In this file photo taken Feb. 15, 1990, Loyola Marymount basketball teammates Hank Gathers, left, and Bo Kimble pose together before practice at the university's gym in Los Angeles. Gathers collapsed during an NCAA college basketball game against Portland on March 5, 1990, and later died. (Douglas C. Pizac, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"In sports, an athletic trainer has to do his job to perfection in a time of crisis. That's heroic."

Landon Hemsley is sports content manager for DeseretNews.com.

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