Eric Montross, who anchored Tar Heels' 1993 national title team, dies months after cancer diagnosis

Michael Perchick Image
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
Eric Montross former UNC Tar Heels legend dies at 52
Carolina Athletics reports Eric Montross passed surrounded by loved ones at his home in Chapel Hill. Montross is credited with leading the team to the 1993 national title under Coach Dean Smith.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Tar Heels icon Eric Montross died from cancer on Sunday at the age of 52.

Carolina Athletics reports Montross passed surrounded by his loved ones at his home in Chapel Hill. His death comes nine months after he announced he had been diagnosed with cancer.

"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 from his family said.

Montross was a towering figure in UNC basketball history. He played for coach Dean Smith from 1990-1994, starting at center for the Heels when they won Smith's second national championship in 1993.

In his first two years in Chapel Hill, Montross played with current Tar Heels head coach Hubert Davis. Together they made it to the Final Four and Sweet 16 in 1991 and 1992 respectively.

"I am devastated. Eric was my friend. He was my teammate. Eric loved being a husband. He loved being a dad. He loved being a Tar Heel and he loved Carolina basketball. I miss him," Davis said in a statement.

SEE ALSO: Reactions pour in following death of UNC basketball legend Eric Montross

The 1993 national title team was the Tar Heel team that beat Michigan's Fab Five. The game is most remembered by future No. 1 overall NBA draft pick and hall of famer Chris Webber getting double-teamed and trying to call a timeout with Michigan down two points in the waning seconds of the game. Unfortunately for Michigan, the team was out of timeouts. Therefore, the gaffe resulted in a technical foul, which ultimately sealed the victory for UNC.

In Montross' senior season at UNC, the team finished the regular season ranked in the top 5 nationally. They won the ACC Tournament and went on to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. However, the team was upset in the second round by Boston College.

Montross, a two-time Associated Press second-team All-American, was selected ninth overall in the first round of the 1994 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. He played nine seasons in the NBA bouncing around with the Celtics, Mavericks, Nets, 76ers, Pistons and Raptors.

Montross after basketball

After his basketball career ended, Montross returned to Chapel Hill and became a highly regarded analyst on the Tar Heel Sports Network. He was a familiar voice on the network for 18 seasons.

Montross stepped away from his duties with Tar Heel Sports Network to focus on his battle with cancer this season.

He was also well known for his advocacy work: namely advocating for and supporting pediatric cancer patients.

"He and Laura (his wife) and their family did the Father's Day camp here that raised money for Lineberger and pediatric center, and built a game room so that young people who went up and had cancer treatments, there was some refuge for them so they can have a little bit of fun and peace while they were up there getting treatments," Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Kirschner said.

While still a student-athlete, Montross formed a close bond with a teen named Jason Clark. Montross even wrote Clark's name on his sneakers and talked about his cancer fight repeatedly during postgame press conferences.

Clark unfortunately died from his disease, but their relationship spawned decades of advocacy work between Montross and UNC Children's Hospital.

"Eric was an exceptional basketball player but an even more exceptional person. Super high integrity, very personable, always wanting to sort out how he can help the children, which is what he always asked me and others about," UNC Children's Hospital Physician-In-Chief Stephanie Duggins Davis said.

Kirschner, who worked with Montross when he was a member of the men's basketball team.

"Whether it was raising money for student-athletes to get scholarships to come play at UNC in all 20 of our sports or the impact that he had and other charitable endeavors. Eric and his family would want to be known for what he did for his community way more so than what he did putting the ball in the basket," Kirschner said. "It was his leadership, his character, the way his teammates looked up to him."

Carolina Athletics released the following statement about the passing of Montross:

"Carolina Athletics, the Tar Heel basketball family and the entire University community are profoundly saddened and stunned by the loss of Eric Montross, one of our most beloved former student-athletes, at far too young an age. Eric was a great player and accomplished student, but the impact he made on our community went way beyond the basketball court. 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.

He helped the Rams Club secure scholarships for student-athletes, and as a color analyst for the Tar Heel Sports Network, he brought perspective, heart and humor to UNC fans near and far. Eric also became an ardent supporter of the Lineberger Center while in college and remained a leader in the fight against cancer throughout his life.

We extend our deepest condolences to Laura, his children and entire family, and his colleagues and friends. The number of people who loved Eric and were touched by him is immeasurable."

Outgoing UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz also released a statement:

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend and Tar Heel legend Eric Montross. 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. Please keep Laura, Sarah, Andrew and Megan in your thoughts and prayers."

ABC11's Michael Perchick and The Associated Press contributed.