Southern Indiana's Lewis dies after fall

Updated: January 15, 2010, 6:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

OWENSBORO, Ky. -- Southern Indiana player Jeron Lewis died Thursday night, apparently from a head injury suffered during a game at Kentucky Wesleyan College. He was 21.

With about four minutes left in the game, Lewis' feet became tangled under the basket and he fell, hitting his head on the floor at Owensboro Sportscenter, multiple witnesses told the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press. He lay prone as trainers from both teams attended to him, and began convulsing as they tried to secure him.

"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," Southern Indiana athletic department spokesman Ray Simmons told The Associated Press. "They started giving him treatment, took him to the medical center. That is where he passed away."

Lewis was taken to Owensboro Mercy Health System, where he was pronounced dead at 9:52 p.m. local time. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning, and results are expected later in the day. A school news conference was planned for 3 p.m. ET in Evansville.

Southern Indiana spokesman Dan McDonnell said Friday he wasn't aware of any preexisting medical conditions that could have contributed to Lewis' collapse.

McDonnell said the 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."

Lewis, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound center, left the team for two games in December to be present for the birth of his first child, son Jamel, in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., the Courier & Press reported. Lewis was in his second season with Division II Southern Indiana, averaging 12.8 points and 8.0 rebounds. The Eagles won Thursday night's game 74-69.

Lewis led the state of Indiana in rebounding as a high school senior. He is survived by his infant son, fiancée, mother and sister.

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

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. The school postponed Saturday's men's and women's doubleheader against Quincy University.

"The university community is heartbroken with the passing of this outstanding young man," Southern Indiana president Linda Bennett said. "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 1½ hours later.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.