Shock over death of 21-year-old college hoops center

BY foxsports • January 15, 2010

A spokesman for Southern Indiana said Friday he was not aware of any existing medical conditions that may have caused 21-year-old center Jeron Lewis to collapse during a game and later die at a hospital.

Fans saw Lewis hit his head when he fell under the basket with about 4 minutes left in Thursday night's game at Kentucky Wesleyan, Southern Indiana assistant sports information director Dan McDonnell said. Lewis was rushed to an Owensboro hospital where he died about 10 p.m.

McDonnell said the Evansville, Ind., campus of about 10,000 students was in shock.

"This is all so sudden," he said. "A lot of people around the program are just stunned."

The Daviess County, Ky., coroner's office said an autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning and results were expected later in the day. Southern Indiana also scheduled a news conference.

McDonnell said he was not aware of any preexisting medical conditions that could have contributed to Lewis' collapse.

"The play was under the basket. The ball was rebounded, we were on defense, and the next thing I knew -- most everyone knew -- all of a sudden the officials start blowing whistles, and Jeron was motionless with the trainer from Kentucky Wesleyan," sports information director Ray Simmons told The Associated Press. "They started giving him treatment, took him to the medical center. That is where he passed away."

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Lewis was in his second season with Division II Southern Indiana, averaging 12.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in 13 games. He missed two games in December for the birth of his son, McDonnell said.

Simmons said Lewis had a "great sense of humor and a soft touch with kids."

Lewis was from Fort Wayne, Ind., where he led the state in rebounding as a high school senior. He is survived by his infant son, fiancee, mother and sister.

Mike Novell, who coached Lewis at Fort Wayne North, said the high school of 1,600 students was "ravaged" by his death.

"What a great young man," Novell said. "Kind, gentle, compassionate, loving -- you hardly ever saw Jeron without a smile on his face."

He said Lewis used to make six transfers on city buses from his home to get to school, but never used hardship as an excuse.

Lewis's college was likewise shaken by his loss. It postponed a men's and women's doubleheader against Quincy that had been set for Saturday.

"The university community is heartbroken with the passing of this outstanding young man," university president Linda Bennett said in a statement late Thursday. "Jeron was an excellent example of a student athlete who strove to be the best that he could be. He will be truly missed, not only by his teammates, but by the university community. Our prayers are with Jeron's family in their time of need."

Lewis' death was reminiscent of the passing of former Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers, who collapsed on the court during a West Coast Conference tournament game on March 4, 1990, and was pronounced dead about 1 1/2 hours later.

Southern Indiana won Thursday night's game, 74-69.

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