Hatch conflicted as LSU men's basketball takes on NW State

Advocate sportswriter
Published: Dec 14, 2007 - Page: 1C

Sit down with Gayle Hatch for long and it doesn’t take long before he starts reminiscing about his basketball career at Northwestern State University.

That in itself is amazing, considering what Hatch has accomplished as a strength training and weightlifting coach since he left Natchitoches in the early 1960s.

But Hatch’s connection to the Demons runs deep, and that makes this week a little strange for the man now in charge of strength and conditioning for the LSU men’s basketball team.

The Tigers (5-3) entertain Northwestern State (4-6) at 7 p.m. Saturday, the first time Hatch has gone head-to-head with the program and school where he achieved legendary status.

“I love Northwestern and I had a great career there,” Hatch said. “I have a lot of good friends and former teammates there who I still keep in touch with. Plus, over the years I’ve trained a lot of Northwestern athletes from the Baton Rouge area, so I have had constant contact with the program for a long time.

“But I’m at LSU now, coaching these guys who I have bonded with. This week is all about business for me and I’m sure my friends at Northwestern feel the same way.”

One of Hatch’s closest friends certainly does.

Demons coach Mike McConathy and Hatch talk on a regular basis — often enough that McConathy calls his friend an inspiration and role model.

“He’s a great guy first of all, and the fact that he played basketball here makes him that much more special to me and our program,” McConathy said. “The thing about Gayle is that he has really worked hard at his craft and become known around the world for what he does. That’s an amazing accomplishment for anybody and since he wore a Demons uniform, we think he’s pretty special. He’s very prominent in Northwestern basketball history, so there’s quite a connection there.”

That connection can also be found in the Demons record book.

Hatch produced one of the more memorable games in Northwestern history on Dec. 13, 1961 when he connected on 18-of-21 field goals on the way to a 44-point performance. There was no 3 point line during the sixties.  Six of Hatch’s eighteen field goals were made from beyond the three point line. This would have made his total 50 points with the three point shot in effect.  His 44 point total is the second-highest single-game mark in school history and his shooting that night is the best by a Demon with 10 attempts or more.

Known as a powerful inside player combined with a deadly outside shot, Hatch also set a school record by grabbing 21 rebounds in a game and shot 57.7 percent from the floor as a senior in 1961-62.

Since basketball ended for Hatch, he has made his name thousands of times over on the international and Olympic levels as a weightlifting coach. He never forgot where he came from, though, and the connection was refortified when McConathy landed the Northwestern job in 1999.

 “I consider Mike McConathy a very good friend of mine,” Hatch said. “He’s a great coach. In fact, when they beat Iowa in the NCAA tournament a few years ago, I was really worried we might lose him. He’s a great human being and the friendship means a lot to both of us, but we’re both competitors and we both want to win this game on Saturday.”

That competition aside, Hatch will always have a place with the Demons. He and former LSU coach Dale Brown made sure of that in 2004 when they combined to create the Gayle Hatch Scholarship, which goes to a Demons basketball player every season.

“He’s been in our gym pulling for the Demons a lot over the years, and we know any time we’re not playing LSU he’s going to be pulling for us,” McConathy said. “That means a lot to me.”