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Eric Montross, former UNC basketball star and NBA big man, dies at 52

Eric Montross, a former North Carolina and NBA big man, has died after a cancer fight, his family said. He was 52.

The school released the family's announcement Monday morning, saying Montross died Sunday surrounded by loved ones at his Chapel Hill home. He had been diagnosed with cancer in March, leading to him stepping away from his duties as a radio analyst for UNC game broadcasts.

"To know Eric was to be his friend, and the family knows that the ripples from the generous, thoughtful way that he lived his life will continue in the lives of the many people he touched with his deep and sincere kindness," the announcement said.

Montross played for the Tar Heels under Dean Smith from 1990-94 and was a two-time Associated Press second-team All-American. He started on Smith's second NCAA championship team in 1993 before being the No. 9 overall pick by the Boston Celtics a year later and playing in the NBA until 2002.

As CBS Sports notes, Montross was also was a teammate his first two seasons with current Carolina coach Hubert Davis. In 1992-93, the Tar Heels were ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 more than half that year and never fell below No. 8. Montross was arguably the team's most reliable player in addition to being its leading scorer, averaging 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. In the 1993 Final Four, he averaged 19.5 points in UNC's wins over Kansas and Michigan. He was named a consensus second team All-American — then earned the honor again when he returned for his senior year.   

In this April 5, 1993, file photo, North Carolina's Eric Montross (00) and George Lynch celebrate a basket as Michigan's Jalen Rose, left, walks away during first half of their NCAA Final Four championship game at the Superdome in New Orleans. North Carolina beat Michigan 77-71.  AP Photo/Susan Ragan, Fle

In addition to his broadcast duties, he worked as senior major gifts director at the Rams Club, the fundraising arm of UNC's athletics department. He was also known for charitable efforts, such as helping launch a father-child basketball camp for Father's Day weekend to support the UNC Children's Hospital.

"Eric was a great player and accomplished student, but the impacts he made on our community went way beyond the basketball court," the school said in its own 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."

The family announced Montross' illness when he was diagnosed, but didn't specify the nature of the cancer.

According to CBS Sports, Montross spent decades helping raise money for children's cancer research and frequently visited cancer patients — often accompanying UNC athletes on spirit-boosting hospital trips.  

Tributes and condolences poured in from the sports world after news of Montross' death.

Former teammate Derrick Phelps, who was on the 1993 NCAA Title team with Montross, posted on social media: "This news really hurts! RIP Big Fella! Love you my center!!"

Jay Bilas, a former player at Duke and current basketball analyst at ESPN, said he was "heartbroken" by the news.

"Eric Montross was the nicest, kindest person one could ever know," Bilas wrote on social media. "A great player and champion, husband, father, friend, and a truly wonderful, beautiful soul."

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale called Montross "one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my basketball journey."

"More than just a basketball star, Eric was a fantastic person," Vitale wrote on social media.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement saying Montross "made a big difference in this world."

"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," Copper wrote on social media. "Our deepest condolences go out to all family, friends and Tar Heels. The Big E made a big difference in this world."

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