RTC Remembers Loyola Marymount 1989-90: Interview With Jeff FryerPosted by jstevrtc on March 3rd, 2010
March 4, 1990.
Quarterfinals, West Coast Conference Tournament.
Loyola Marymount vs Portland. 13:34 left, first half.
Hank Gathers had just scored on a dunk to put his Lions ahead, 25-13. Unfortunately, we all know what happened soon after.
Twenty years to the day have passed since that moment, one of the most tragic in the history of college basketball. Gathers, of course, was much more than the leader of the most exciting college team ever to take the floor, and what he meant to people as a friend and family member cannot be explained or summarized in a hundred articles on this or any other website, or by the various 20-year remembrances of both Gathers and that 1990 Loyola Marymount team that you’re likely to see in the next few weeks. After that moment, the entire WCC Tournament was stopped. As regular season champions, Loyola Marymount was awarded the WCC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They were cast as a #11 seed in the West region, and given the “opportunity” to decline the bid for obvious reasons. This was a good basketball team; they had posted a 13-1 WCC record and were 26-6 overall. But if they chose to sit this one out — who could blame them?
The remaining Lions decided to play on, knowing that it was the most fitting way to honor their departed friend. What came after that was probably the most remarkable three-game run in NCAA Tournament history, and not just because LMU was an underdog in each game. Knowing that not playing was not an option, these guys had to find a way to go out and win games and enjoy basketball without feeling like they were minimizing the life of their fallen teammate. Working this out in your head would be difficult at any age, let alone when you’re a college kid between 18-22. Still, they found a way to get through the first game and defeat New Mexico State, 111-92. They found a way to annihilate defending champion Michigan 149-115 — that is not a typo — hitting 21 three-pointers and forcing UM into 27 turnovers. They found a way to endure and win the Sweet 16 game against Alabama, 62-60, a game in which Alabama would actually pull the ball out even when the Tide had 3-on-1 and 4-on-2 fastbreaks so as not to get caught up in the LMU style. It took the eventual champion in UNLV — one of the best college basketball teams of all time — to defeat them in the Elite Eight.
The entire nation had become fascinated with LMU even before Gathers’ death. Everyone remembers the hyperdrive, speed of light, is-this-really-happening pace that coach Paul Westhead employed (LMU averaged 122.4 PPG that year). Everyone remembers Bo Kimble’s tribute of shooting his first free throw of each game left-handed, and that he was 3-3 in the NCAA Tournament with the left hand. The greatest part of the LMU run, though, was the 41-point performance by Jeff Fryer in the second round game against Michigan. A perfect fit for Westhead’s offense, Fryer was a skilled shooter with classic form and unbelievable range who had the green light to go up with it pretty much as soon as he crossed half-court. Against Michigan, he entered a rarified state of shooting consciousness, hitting 15-20 on the night — and an unbelievable 11-15 from behind the three point arc. And if you ever get to see a replay of this game, you’ll notice — a lot of them weren’t exactly with his toes near the line. It was phenomenal. The 11 threes still stand as a record number for an NCAA Tournament game, and it was one of the great individual performances in the history of the event. Mr. Fryer still lives in California and was kind enough to answer some of our questions about those days.
RTC: To this day, when people think of Loyola Marymount, they think of the fast-paced style, the great tournament run in 1990, and Hank Gathers’ untimely death in the West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals that year. The WCC Tournament begins on Friday. It’s been 20 years. What has been the impact of Gathers’ death on your life?
JF: The impact of Hank’s life on my life would be the privilege of playing hoops with one of the best college ball players ever. I’m thankful that he decided to play his college years at LMU and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I try not to dwell on his death, just try to remember his life, and that everybody has a time to pass on, and that was his time.
JF: It was actually a very confusing time, due to the fact that we were mourning his death and also celebrating victories in the NCAA Tourney. So it was like, what are we supposed to be feeling, joy or sadness? It was a very difficult time and it took a while to sort through all that.
JF: It was actually “six seconds to shoot” according to Coach Westhead. One of the quotes I will always remember him saying (and I might butcher it) was: “When ’tis done, ’twere well it were done quickly.” I believe that was Shakespeare from Macbeth. It basically meant push the ball down the court quickly every time.
RTC: Why do you think more teams don’t adopt the outright full-court pressing/”run-and-gun” style? Is VMI the closest thing these days?
JF: A team must have certain types of players to play that style, and the coach must recruit those players specifically. Also, the guys must buy into the system and trust in their coach that it will work. If not, it could look awful. Thankfully, we had Bo and Hank to help our cause.
RTC: We named our preseason list of college basketball’s best long-range sharpshooters after you, for good reason. There have been few players we’ve ever seen who had the green light AND the ability to confidently let it sail from pretty much anywhere. Were you always a great outside shot (like in high school) or was it a niche that you found on this team?
JF: Well, there wasn’t a three point line while I was playing in high school. Many of my shots were well beyond the three point line, though. I believe, because I grew up with two older brothers, I was forced to shoot from far away because I had to shoot over them. Also, my senior year of high school, they announced that the three-point line would be in effect in the NCAA the next year, and Coach Westhead called me to say that my stock just went up in value.
RTC: What makes a great shooter, and what made you one? Who are some of the great shooters you’ve seen in your life?
JF: I would go to college games, watch players shoot, and pattern my shot after theirs. It didn’t always work so I just shot my natural shot, which felt the most comfortable, and it worked. I was also blessed by God with the ability to shoot the basketball. I did spend countless hours in the backyard practicing as well.
JF: It was just one of those games where everything was clicking. I had some great point guards who passed me the ball at the right place and time. I was getting a lot of open looks because the Michigan players were tired. I was just in the zone, you could say.
JF: I think Max Good is doing a great job. He has a great recruiter in Jason Levy, and they are getting some great talent in there. They are young and talented, and beat Gonzaga recently who was ranked #9 in the country. When they are healthy, they can beat anybody. I believe it is time that they build their own legacy at LMU, and I think they are starting to do that now.
JF: I do run the Jeff Fryer Basketball Academy. After coaching in high school and college for a number of years, I decided to train kids and run camps. I do my training out Newport Beach, California. It is very rewarding to see the progress of the kids I coach, not just in shooting skills, but the overall offensive and defensive game. I also started working for SC Capital Partners Inc., an investment banking firm in Irvine, CA, about a year ago. We raise capital for growing companies and take private companies public, and so on. I’m also very involved in my church.
RTC: Are you still in contact with any of the players from the LMU days?
JF: Yes, actually we just had a 20 reunion for our basketball team during the 1990 season. It was good to see all the guys. ESPN filmed a documentary on our team for the 30/30 series which will air on April 3 on ABC.
JF: Syracuse, New Mexico, Gonzaga, and Kansas.