UNM basketball player commits suicide

Updated: August 29, 2003, 11:49 AM ET

ALBUQUERQUE -- A University of New Mexico basketball player who had spoken to coach Ritchie McKay about an hour earlier was found hanged from a light pole near downtown Albuquerque, and a preliminary investigation indicates his death was suicide.

Sophomore Patrick William Feeney, 20, a transfer from Portland State University, was found dead at 5:15 a.m. Thursday outside a downtown-area Albuquerque apartment complex, Police Chief Gil Gallegos said.

The Office of the Medical Investigator ruled Feeney committed suicide by hanging, Gallegos said. He said there was no evidence of foul play.

An emotional McKay said he talked to Feeney around 4 a.m. and that Feeney told him he was at a bus station with a ticket home to Boulder, Colo., to deal with personal issues. McKay would not elaborate, but UNM sports information director Greg Remington said UNM officials believed the issue was temporary.

"Had we thought he wouldn't have made it home, we wouldn't have ended the conversation," the tearful coach said during a news conference with police. "He expressed some personal issues that he wanted to attend to."

Gallegos said police did not find any notes.

"I'm not sure there's words to express our feelings," McKay said. "My staff and I loved Billy like a son. We grieve for Billy's family."

Feeney's father, Jim, who played basketball at the University of Colorado and the University of Utah, said his son was home in Boulder for three weeks this month "and we had a great time."

"He seemed fine," he said. "I don't know what happened."

Jim Feeney said his son spoke with his mother, Liz, on Wednesday evening "and he didn't say anything to her" that indicated a problem.

"I just think he said he was homesick and he wanted to try to find a way back here," Jim Feeney said.

He said his son did not call to say he was taking a bus home.

"If he was coming up," he said, "he didn't tell us."

Feeney, 6-foot-10, transferred to New Mexico after the 2001-02 season and would have been eligible to play for the Mountain West Conference Lobos in the upcoming season. He was expected to see action at both the guard and forward positions.

Troy DeVries, who roomed with Feeney at Portland State and also transferred to UNM, said the death was unexpected.

"He was like a brother to every single player on the team," DeVries said. "Everybody loved being around him. He made people laugh. Every time he walked into a room, he would light up the room."

Isaac Massie, who worked out with Feeney and worked with him at a summer youth basketball camp, said they had lunch together Wednesday and Feeney didn't say anything was wrong.

I never saw anything that bothered him. ... I never saw him down," Massie said.

Sandia High School basketball coach Tom Knauber said his daughter, Adrienne, 20, and Feeney were close. "He was one of those kids you clung to," Knauber said.

Knauber said Feeney and Adrienne studied together Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

"She saw him (Wednesday) night and said nothing was wrong," Knauber said. "She said, `He was teasing me like always.' He even gave her a pair of sweats (Wednesday) night that he had from Portland State. He cut them down to fit her."

Terry Gallagher, who knew Feeney since he was born and coached him in summer basketball, described Feeney as "a smiley kid."

"He was over at the house a couple of weeks ago visiting (Gallagher's son) Patrick and everything seemed good," he said. "It didn't seem like anything was bothering him."

McKay, in a prospectus for the coming season, said: "Billy Feeney could surprise the league. He is multi-talented and I think his redshirt year is going to make him a better player."

As a freshman at Portland State, Feeney averaged 8.5 points per game and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Mike Lund, assistant athletic director at Portland State, said Feeney might have left Portland after his freshman year because of a coaching change, but he also said he wasn't that happy on an urban, downtown campus.

"Billy was a great kid, a very good student and a very good basketball player," Lund said. "He was fairly unflappable, in that he didn't seem to be bothered much by pressure or anything like that."

McKay coached at Portland State in 1996-97.

When Feeney transferred, he said he was looking forward to playing at New Mexico.

"And the Pit, I'm really excited about that," he said.

Feeney was a 2001 graduate of Boulder (Colo.) Monarch High School, where he lettered for three years. He was a first team All-Boulder City and honorable mention all-state as a senior.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index