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Taking a Flyer : No One Knows Why Dayton's Daniels Died and Massachusetts' Camby Lived, but Ohio Campus Is Devastated

February 17, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAYTON, Ohio — It was Jan. 6, at Amherst, Dayton versus Massachusetts, Chris Daniels versus Marcus Camby.

A prelude to two mysteries.

Daniels joked before the Atlantic 10 Conference game that he hadn't heard much about Camby, claiming he didn't have cable.

Right.

Daniels knew everything about Camby, college basketball's probable player of the year.

A fifth-year senior, Daniels who had not played up to expectations in an injury-marred career, was having a breakthrough season, averaging 13 points a game and ranking second nationally in shooting percentage.

Dayton was no match for No. 1 Massachusetts, losing 78-58, but Daniels had one of his best games, scoring 20 points, making 10 of his 12 shots.

Camby had a great game too, scoring 38 points and taking down 11 rebounds.

They were young adults having the times of their lives, centers who passed in the night.

A week later, at St. Bonaventure, Camby fainted in the locker room after completing pregame warmups. He was unresponsive for 10 minutes.

After undergoing a barrage of tests, and sitting out four games, Camby was pronounced fit and returned to a team in quest of the national championship.

Doctors have been unable to determine what caused him to lose consciousness.

On Feb. 7, four weeks after facing Camby, Daniels went to sleep in his home in a section of student housing near campus known as the "UD ghetto."

He never woke up.

"No aneurysm, no blood clot, no obvious cause of death," Ken Betz, the director of the Montgomery County coroner's office, reported in a press release.

More extensive test results won't be completed for weeks, but the coroner to date has ruled out drugs or alcohol as a cause of death.

Doctors may never know what happened.

Daniels' heart was slightly enlarged but that was not extraordinary for a man his size, 6 feet 10 and 238 pounds.

Abdul Wase, director of electrophysiology at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, said heart problems resulting in sudden death sometimes give no warning.

"The first presentation may be death," he told the Dayton Daily News.

Camby and Daniels.

One lives, one dies.

No one knows why.

Right now, that isn't good enough for friends and family of Daniels at Dayton, a Catholic college of about 6,000 students.

"It's not fair," Dayton guard Darnell Hoskins said after practice the other day.

On Hoskins' right biceps are tattooed God and Trust, but there have been times this week he wanted to scrub them off.

"I had to ask God, 'Why?' " he said.

Faith has been put to the test since the terrible news swept through town last week.

Daniels was 22, had already graduated, gushed unabashedly about his mother, and was working himself toward a possible career in professional basketball.

"He had everything in sight," Dayton Coach Oliver Purnell said.

Now, Hoskins can't make the flashbacks go away. They come in waves, over and over.

"One scene that runs in my mind is Chris and I laughing together," Hoskins said. "On the other side is me visualizing him lying on the floor."

Hoskins, a transfer from Wisconsin who made it a habit of crashing on Daniels' couch, had done so that night.

"All he talked about was the game the next day," Hoskins recalled.

Daniels had missed the team's Tuesday night game against Bethune-Cookman because of an ankle sprain, but was eager for that Thursday night's game against La Salle.

"Unfortunately, he didn't get to see that next day," Hoskins said.

Hoskins came in that night and heard Daniels and his girlfriend, Ratana Earle, laughing in another room.

The next time Hoskins heard Earle was early the next morning, when she ran into the room screaming that something was wrong with Chris.

Hoskins thought first that it was a prank.

"His eyes were open," he said. "You know how, when you're a kid, you pretend to be dead? He kind of looked like that. But when I picked his arm up, it was real limp. Then I checked for a pulse."

Hoskins called 911, got CPR instructions over the phone and worked on his friend until paramedics arrived 10 minutes later. Daniels was taken to Miami Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:31 a.m.

The funeral was Monday in Columbus, Daniels' hometown.

Not willing to break a tradition for Dayton seniors, Purnell asked mourners in St. John Holy Rosary Church to rise and give Daniels a standing ovation. Thunderous applause ensued. Reporters, packed in the balcony, watched as Chris' sister, Neta, spoke from the heart.

"Anyone who knew Chris knew he was a gentleman, a mama's boy, was kind to children and he loved animals," she said. "Everyone knows that's not cool, but he was the coolest person I ever met."

Shell-shocked, the survivors looked on: mother Alice, father Warren, sister Dawn, brother Antonio and D.R. Humphrey, Chris' grandmother.

Daniels was buried in his Dayton Flyers' warmup uniform.

Two nights later, having not eaten or slept in days, Antonio, a junior guard at Bowling Green, drove the length of the court with four seconds remaining and scored the winning layup against Eastern Michigan in a 72-70 victory.

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