- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

There are All-Americans, and then there are honorable mention All-Americans. The latter tend to be the better stories, if you ask me.

Take Danny Gathings from High Point.

“Danny who from where?” you ask.

Danny Gathings from High Point University. His was one of the 69 names that ran in the newspaper yesterday under the heading: “AP All-America Basketball Team.” The players on the first, second and third teams are all immediately recognizable, as are most of the honorable mentions: Connecticut’s Ben Gordon, Duke’s J.J. Redick, Saint Joseph’s Delonte West, et al. But here and there on the list you’ll come across a guy with no real national profile, a Local Legend, as it were.

Such as Danny Gathings of the High Point Panthers.

In case you missed it (and you probably did), High Point became a Division I program in 1999 after years of membership in the NAIA and, for a brief spell, Division II. Located in central North Carolina, it competes in one of those 16th-seed conferences, the Big South, along with the Chanticleers (Coastal Carolina), Highlanders (Radford) and Keydets (VMI), among others.

Gene Littles, who played in the ABA and coached in the NBA, went to High Point. (He’s the school’s all-time-leading scorer.) Kentucky coach Tubby Smith graduated from there, too. (He’s No.5 on the scoring list.) Before this season, though, the Panthers had zero success in D-1. They hadn’t even managed a winning record.

Last season, when they lost 20 of 27 games and finished at the bottom of the standings, Danny Gathings was about all they had. He led the conference in scoring and rebounding, the only major college player to do so. And yet, says sports information director Lee Owen, “he didn’t even make first or second team all-conference, just because the team was so bad.”

Expectations were understandably modest going into this season. High Point had a new coach, Bart Lundy, and 10 new players, many of them junior college transfers. But amazingly, things came together. The Panthers went 19-11 and reached the championship game of the Big South tournament, where they got poleaxed by Liberty 89-44.

Still, it was one of the biggest turnarounds in Division I, and Gathings, a junior, was right in the middle of it. He beat Western Carolina and Charleston Southern with last-second shots — the latter reminiscent of Christian Laett-ner’s buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAAs — and averaged 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds to earn conference player of the year honors.

“We’re getting on our feet,” he says. “We’re getting there. We wanted to win the tournament, but we’ve got another year to improve some more and hopefully do it.”

Gathings, by the way, is a power forward — a 6-3 power forward. The media guide lists him at 6-6, but that’s just for show. “If you believe that,” says Lundy, “then you probably believe in Santa Claus. He might be 6-4 if we stretched him out.”

Gathings began his college career at Virginia Tech three years ago. He acquitted himself well as a freshman and figured prominently in then-coach Ricky Stokes’ plans, but he didn’t like being apart from his infant son, Izaiah, who was living with his mother in Winston-Salem, N.C., Gathings’ home town. So he transferred to High Point, a mere 15 minutes away.

He now has a second son, Jasaiah, and his days are very full. Izaiah, 3, sometimes will accompany him to class and practice — and then sleep over in his dorm room. “He’s very well behaved,” Dad explains.

Lundy is finding the recruiting trail much friendlier thanks to his star “power” forward. Having a player who’s an honorable mention All-American “is huge for our program,” he says — and, coupled with the team’s 19 wins this season, is helping him and his assistants “get in doors we probably never would have. We can tell recruits he’s got another year, that they’ll get to play with him.

“Danny is an exciting player, a slasher with great leaping ability, and he’s really developed his game. When he came here from Virginia Tech, he couldn’t shoot. He used to dunk everything. But he started hitting the 3 this season.”

One last story: After losing the championship game of the Big South tournament, Gathings received a nice consolation prize — the tourney MVP award. There was only problem: He thought it should have gone to Liberty’s Larry Blair, who scored 23 in the semis and 28 more in the final (but was denied the trophy by a bizarre voting system).

So when Gathings got back to campus, he walked into Lundy’s office, trophy in hand, and said, “I don’t deserve this. I want to give it [to Blair].”

“I should have handed it to him when they presented it to me,” he says. “That would have been the most appropriate time to do it. But I’ll probably go [to Liberty] this week or next and present it to him.”

So there he is, Danny Gathings, High Point University’s first Division I All-American — a player who puts the honorable in honorable mention.

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