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No Reason Found for McRae's Death

Former Syracuse player collapsed at summer league practice at UC Irvine. He had history of heart problems.


An autopsy Tuesday failed to determine what caused former Syracuse basketball player Conrad McRae's death at UC Irvine on the first day of practice for the Orlando Magic's summer league team.

McRae, 29, who had a history of heart problems, collapsed while running wind sprints during the team's practice Monday afternoon.

Details are sketchy, but UC Irvine spokeswoman Karen Young said someone called campus police, who arrived with Orange County paramedics at 1:41 p.m.

"He was in full cardiac arrest," Capt. Paul Hunter of the county fire authority said.

McRae was taken to Irvine Regional Hospital and Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later, Young said.

The Magic abruptly canceled its five-day gymnasium contract with UCI and withdrew Tuesday from the Summer Pro League at Long Beach State. Magic General Manager John Gabriel said in a statement:

"We're shocked at the news of the tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Conrad and his family."

Petrina Long, UCI's assistant athletic director, referred inquiries to McRae's agent, Mitch Frankel, who did not return phone calls.

A popular player in Europe, the 6-foot-10 McRae made about $800,000 last year in the Italian A-1 league, where he averaged about 11 points a game for Telit Trieste, according to Cliff Luyk, who coached Real Madrid. McRae also had played in the Continental Basketball Assn., but never caught on with an NBA team because it was questionable that he could play power forward.

"He was an extremely athletic guy and very intense," Laker assistant Bill Bertka said. "But a little bit limited offensively."

McRae had returned to the United States intent on playing in the NBA, Bertka added.

McRae, who was to have been married Aug. 5, was a nonroster athlete invited to play with the Magic during the summer. Earlier this month, he'd had a tryout with the Dallas Mavericks.

A native of Brooklyn, he played for Syracuse from 1989 to 1993, averaging nearly 13 points a game his senior season. He was taken in the second round of the 1993 NBA draft by the then-Washington Bullets, but played mostly for European teams and in the CBA.

According to Cullen Ellingburgh, supervising deputy coroner with the Orange County coroner's office, further tests are planned, but the cause of death might not be known for weeks..

Medical documents obtained from McRae's former physician indicated McRae had a history of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which "can cause a sudden death," Ellingburgh said. In 1999, McRae signed a 10-day contract with the Denver Nuggets but it was terminated when he fainted before a game.

"Given his history, I would imagine [McRae's death] is related to that," Ellingburgh said. "But we have to confirm that."

The Magic wouldn't comment on McRae's medical history. Marni Colbert, director of operations for the Summer Pro League, said that the league does not do physicals of its players, who presumably have been cleared by their NBA teams.

Word of McRae's death sent shock waves through the basketball community.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said, "I cannot believe it. He has nothing but friends all over the world. Everyone in Syracuse is shocked."

Added Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine, "We're a big family here, and he was one of the kids. . . . He was a super person."

Fine said he spoke to McRae a few weeks ago.

"We talked about his upcoming wedding and that he had made a decision to stay and play here," Fine said. "He thought he had a good chance."

At the Long Beach State Pyramid on Tuesday, Keith Grant, Dallas assistant general manager, said he was unaware that McRae had past health problems.

"I saw him play in college," Grant said. "I always thought he had a chance to make it in the NBA, but his main problem was that he was always a little undersized for a power forward."


Times staff writers Melanie Neff and Ben Bolch contributed to this story.

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