Police: Feeney took his own life

Updated: August 28, 2003, 6:58 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ALBUQUERQUE -- A University of New Mexico basketball player was found hanged in downtown Albuquerque, and a preliminary investigation indicates his death was suicide, police said Thursday.

Sophomore Patrick William Feeney, 20, a transfer from Portland State University, was found dead at 5:15 a.m. local time Thursday outside a downtown Albuquerque apartment complex, Police Chief Gil Gallegos said. He said there was no evidence of foul play.

Coach Ritchie McKay said he talked to Feeney around 4 a.m. and that Feeney told him he was at a bus station with a ticket to home to Boulder, Colo., because he had 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 and the investigation is continuing.

"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 death is the latest in a series of off-the-court misfortunes to the program.

Sean Phaler, an incoming recruit, got in a car accident in June and suffered a serious back injury. A year ago New Mexico senior guard Senque Carey suffered a career-ending neck injury during a game that left him temporarily paralyzed before he regained full movement.

And during the summer, Patrick Dennehy, who transferred from New Mexico to Baylor, was shot to death in Waco, Texas. Former New Mexico coach Dave Bliss was forced to resign after he admitted to violations in the program. Bliss had attempted to blame Dennehy for the violations by saying Dennehy paid for his tuition through drug dealing when he actually made the payments himself.

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

"He seemed fine," the elder Feeney told The Albuquerque Tribune. "I don't know what happened."

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

"He was a real nice guy," said Carey, who visited with his former teammates Thursday afternoon. "He worked hard and had a good upside basketball-wise. He was the type of guy who loved his teammates a lot. He was a good teammate.

"The team is real down, real down. They lost a family member. This was a close-knit team."

Troy DeVries, who roomed with Feeney at Portland State and also transferred to New Mexico, told the Tribune Feeney's 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."

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."

Feeney played one season for former Portland State coach Joel Sobotka, now an assistant at Cal State-Northridge. Feeney was on campus for the final month of the 2001-02 school year but decided against playing for new coach Heath Schroyer.

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

"He was a great kid, but he just decided that he didn't fit here," Schroyer said. "I didn't know him that well. But he was well-liked by his teammates and everyone on this campus is shocked by this."

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.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.