30-for-30: Guru of Go

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Release: Saturday, April 3, 2010

[Netflix]

Directed by: Bill Couterié

When Loyola Marymount University’s Hank Gathers dropped to the hardwood without warning, his teammates and close friends thought he was fooling around. It was a fair assumption to make given the charismatic player’s inability to take anything seriously off the court. But an irregular heart rhythm wasn’t anything to joke about. After the frightening event he was put on medication in an attempt to control the condition, but as the combined pressures of being in the West Coast Championship Tournament along with his greatly reduced efficiency on the floor due to the prescribed drugs began to mount Gathers’ overwhelming confidence in his ability to overcome anything foreshadowed tragedy.

On Sunday, March 4, 1990 in the WCC semifinal against the Portland Pilots Hank collapsed again after a blistering drive to the basket for a slam dunk. This time he wouldn’t be getting up.

Documentarian Bill Couterié presents an emotional but restrained film that pays tribute to the obscenely short lifespan of a talented college player whose prospects of going pro were more than decent. However, Guru of Go centers around the controversial fast-break playing style (known nationwide as ‘The System,’ where the team would run virtually non-stop the entire game) enacted by LMU head coach Paul Westhead and how this may have played a role in the premature death of the school’s star player.

One of the more common criticisms leveled at the game by non-fans is that too many points are amassed for the individual shots to really mean anything. However you feel about the scoring system in basketball, there’s a caveat to bear in mind: no one scored more than Westhead’s squad during the 1990 season, who averaged 122 points per game. Though it’s an outdated style of play for LMU, particularly in the wake of that tragic game, some aspects of ‘The System’ have survived generations of play. After all, modern basketball has adapted to a much faster pace, played with superstar athletes who exist in many fans’ minds as gods and goddesses. In Westhead’s mind ‘The System’ is a thing of beauty, an application that has defined who he is as a coach and the teams he’s implemented it with over a 40-plus-year span. Most recently that would be the WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury. He currently is the only head coach to claim both an NBA (with the Los Angeles Lakers) and a WNBA title (with the Mercury).

Guru of Go, in such a brief running time, makes time for interviews with Gathers’ former LMU teammates, his brother Derrick, and Coach Westhead, while setting up enough context at the beginning for viewers to get a feel for the time and place in which this particularly talented athlete — undoubtedly the pride and joy of the Californian college of the late ’80s — ran into one of the most brutal game strategies ever implemented. ‘The System’ was designed to condition LMU to be able to strengthen as the game clock ran on, whereas typical teams unaccustomed to running so much would by and large be weakening. It really was a beautiful concept, but was it too much for players, even ones as talented and seemingly built to last like Hank Gathers?

Couterié briefly delves into the ugly reality following LMU’s strong run in the college championship tournament when the Gathers family sued both the school and Hank’s doctor for negligence. While this side of the story may have deserved further examination, Guru of Go is clearly aimed at lifting spirits rather than drowning viewers in sorrow and finger-pointing. In some way, the questions left unanswered in this documentary serve to add to the legacy of Gathers. How could such a triumphant player go down so suddenly? Of course life is not fair, but this is one example of how sobering that sentiment really can be.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

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3-5Recommendation: If you find yourself a fan of college basketball I doubt I need to recommend this important bit of film to you. You either have it lined up to watch at some point or have already seen it, possibly many times. Guru of Go comes highly recommended to anyone wanting to know a bit more about the landscape of college basketball in general. (I knew zilch about Loyola Marymount, personally, so that was cool.) The story of Hank Gathers and Coach Westhead’s approach to the game is not one to miss. 

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 60 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com;  www.marsreel.co 

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25 thoughts on “30-for-30: Guru of Go

  1. Oh man! I missed this one. I saw the promo last week and I think I have it on my dvr or in my netflix queue somewhere. need to find it. great review and recap. this one looks very emotional.

    • I quite liked this one. It could’ve benefited from a tad more exposition and some in-depth coverage of the fallout after Gathers’ passing but maybe that wouldn’t have been true to the tone of this film

    • Thanks kindly Zoe! I consider myself a pretty big fan, yes. I try to keep my eyes open for these kinds of things. Thank you for reading!

    • Dude you have no idea how much r hat means to me, it’s really quite something to have any followers at all on here. When I started it in 2011 I actually promptly stopped for awhile asI figured it’d be a waste of time and energy. But great people make it a worthwhile pursuit so thanks a lot for being one of those great people! Cheers.

  2. I hadn’t heard of this one, I’ll have to give it a go. Though I’m sceptical as to a certain basketball strategy leading to a death. That is just a horrible coicidence. I’ll have to watch for myself, I’ve no idea how though from down here. =/

    Nice reading man, I hope I get to see this sometime. I am a basketball nutter.

    • As I don’t want to spoil anything for potential viewers, I’ll just say that the documentary makes a good argument for both sides. I really enjoyed this one man, and yeah it probably is going to be tough to track it down but if you ever do, hop on it. I think it’ll be up your alley

      • Definetely sounds like it’d be. And a non-biased breakdown of a basketball strategy?? Hell I’m keen! I actually wanna be a ref ( I ain’t good enough to play hehe)

          • Yeah I have seen a couple and you are right. The one I remember was Reggie Miller vs Spike Lee and the Knicks. It was great to have both Spike and Reggie both giving their sides of the story, it was great. Would love to see this one.

            • Ah I have seen that one too actually, been a while though. I should get my hands back on it and write up a review for it. Reggie Miller is legendary.

              • Too true. And he is a awesome commentator to boot, him and Van Gundy are so much better than the rest, mainly cos they say it like it is and don’t sugar coat things

  3. Always great to read your 30-for-30 reviews Tom. We don’t get many over here which is A
    a shame as I’m a big fan of basketball, college or otherwise. Splendid review as is to be expected squire.

    • Man it’s one of the main reasons I thought it’d be a good idea to start up a different kind of film review space here. It’s an opportunity to fill other like-minded sports fans in on what they have been missing. I really enjoy providing them. thanks as always for your support man. Means a lot.

    • It’s a good one man, and Hank Gathers seemed like such a good guy. I didn’t actually think about the tagline until you mentioned it, but yeah you’re right. Pretty lame lol.

      • I try to tell people they are great even if you don’t like sports because they really are. It’s kind of like the extension of Hoop Dreams from the 90s, which isn’t really about basketball but people.

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