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Eric Montross, former UNC-Chapel Hill basketball star and broadcaster, dies at 52 after cancer fight

FILE - In this April 5, 1993, file photo, North Carolina's Eric Montross (00) raises his arm as he celebrates a win against Michigan in the NCAA Final Four championship basketball game in New Orleans.
Bob Jordan
FILE - In this April 5, 1993, file photo, North Carolina's Eric Montross (00) raises his arm as he celebrates a win against Michigan in the NCAA Final Four championship basketball game in New Orleans.

Eric Montross, a former UNC-Chapel Hill basketball great and beloved figure around Tar Heel athletics, died on Sunday surrounded by loved ones at his Chapel Hill home, his family said.

The former two-time All-American, who helped the Tar Heels win the 1993 NCAA Championship, was 52. His family announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but did not specify the nature of it.

After a professional basketball career that included eight seasons in the NBA, Montross returned to Chapel Hill where he became a fixture on radio broadcasts for Carolina basketball games for more than 18 years. He also worked as the senior major gifts director at the Rams Club — the fundraising arm of UNC-Chapel Hill athletics.

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend and Tar Heel legend Eric Montross,” UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement. “He was an incredible friend, a passionate leader and an inspiring advocate for our campus. His impact extended well beyond the court with his tireless support of the UNC Children's Hospital and his annual Father's Day basketball camp. We have lost a great Tar Heel, and Eric will be truly missed.”

As a player, Montross was known as a bruising 7-foot center with a soft touch around the basket. The native of Indiana was a teammate of current UNC-Chapel Hill coach Hubert Davis, and a major contributor to Carolina's 1993 NCAA title-winning team. Montross averaged 15.8 points and 7.6 rebound per game for the Tar Heels that season, which culminated in legendary coach Dean Smith’s second national championship.

“Eric was a great player and accomplished student, but the impacts he made on our community went way beyond the basketball court,” Tar Heels athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “He was a man of faith, a tremendous father, husband and son, and one of the most recognizable ambassadors of the University and Chapel Hill.”

Montross was also part of two Carolina teams that won the ACC Tournament title, in 1991 and 1994. Montross was a two-time All-ACC selection. His No. 00 jersey is retired by the Tar Heels, hanging in the rafters at the Dean Smith Center.

Aside from his accolades, Montross became a legend of sorts in UNC basketball history for a performance simply referred to now as the “Bloody Montross” game. On Feb. 5, 1992, the Tar Heels handed rival Duke its first loss of the season, 75-73. During the game, while fighting for positioning under the basket, Montross got cut on the top of his head, causing blood to drip down his face and neck and onto his jersey. After getting stitches, Montross, then a sophomore, returned to the heated contest and finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against the Blue Devils.

In 1994, Montross was selected ninth overall in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. He averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game his first season, making the NBA’s All-Rookie team. He also played for the Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors, the Dallas Mavericks, the New Jersey Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers before his playing career ended after the 2001-02 season due to a foot injury.

After his playing career, Montross became a broadcaster on the Tar Heels Sports Network and a fundraiser for the Rams Club. He also started an annual Father’s Day basketball camp that raised money for UNC Hospitals.

He is survived by his wife Laura and three children: Sarah, Andrew and Megan.

Tributes and memories of Montross poured in on social media after the news of his passing. Gov. Roy Cooper offered condolences, saying: “So very sad to hear of the loss of Eric Montross whose contributions to the UNC community and our state went far beyond his championship basketball skills. Our deepest condolences go out to all family, friends and Tar Heels. The Big E made a big difference in this world.”

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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