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

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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.

Antonio, who finished with 20 points, wore Chris' jersey number, 33, in tribute.

After the game, Antonio returned to the court to greet his parents.

He was wearing his brother's Dayton warmup jersey.

*

For Father Gene Contadino, Dayton basketball team chaplain, comforting the bereaved never gets easier.

But who is there to comfort the clergy?

"My tears are just as real as theirs," he said. "This one, I won't say I was blindsided, but I felt it."

Contadino said the uncertainty over the cause of death makes the situation more difficult.

"There's a big emptiness," he said. "If you die in a plane crash, or an auto accident, it doesn't change the result, but there's no vacuum there."

The chaplain, who has been teaching since 1962, said Daniels' death has had a major impact on the school's adults.

Coaches and faculty members who have children cannot easily come to grips with a death so shockingly unexplainable.

"It's far bigger and deeper than I expected," Contadino said. "White males don't cry, but in the last four or five days I've probably seen more men crying than maybe since the Kennedy assassination."

Players have basketball as an outlet.

"Maybe their inexperience protects them," the chaplain said. "Our kids, like most athletes, are not highly verbal. They're used to working things out by running or exercising."

Last Saturday, two days after Daniels' death, Dayton decided to play its scheduled game against Fordham in New York.

The Flyers lost, 68-58.

Fordham Coach Nick Macarchuk, whose hapless team badly needed a victory, said he could not recall a more hollow one.

Dayton players broke a pregame huddle with a chant of "Chris!" Some penned his number, 33, on their shoes. Other inscribed Daniels' nickname, "Bear."

"Hopefully it was the start of recovery," said Purnell, the second-year coach who was an assistant at Maryland when star Len Bias died there 10 years ago of a cocaine overdose.

Shawn Haughn, a junior guard who grew up with Daniels in Columbus, said the only time he hasn't thought about Daniels was during the Fordham game.

"The last four or five days have felt like a month and a half," he said.

The hurt comes like clockwork for Haughn, who picked Daniels up for practice every day at the same time. The pickup was a standing agreement, and Haughn was always amused that Daniels called every day to make sure it was OK.

When 12:45 p.m. came and went Tuesday, the pain sharpened.

"There was no phone call," Haughn said. "I can't remember any time that Chris has not called. He called me every day. I'd been picking him up for three years, but he still called."

For Haughn and his teammates, and the community, this death will linger.

"He was so strong a man, a good student, an all-around good guy," Haughn said. "He didn't deserve what happen to him."

A reporter wondered how a friend's death would change him.

"It already has," Haughn said. "There's no point in getting in an argument, where you walk away never knowing if that's the last time you'll seem them. I'm just not going to take my life for granted."

Team chaplains don't always have answers.

Why him, why now?

Why Daniels, not Camby?

How is it that one dies and the other lives to become an All-American?

No one can recall Daniels mentioning concern for himself after Camby had collapsed against St. Bonaventure.

"When you're young, you don't think too much about that," Purnell said. "They were worried [about Camby], but they just said, 'Ah, he's OK.' For the older people, the coaches, we remember Len Bias and Hank Gathers. All that goes through your mind."

But Daniels' death has given Hoskins pause.

"These are scary things," he said. "There are a lot of athletes out there in the same condition. Chris was in great shape. He never complained about stamina. It's got to be scary for athletes around the country."

Contadino is often asked why his God would do this to one who held so much promise.

"What makes you think God doesn't hurt too?" Contadino replied. "God doesn't hurt? God hurts just as much, because God's in this mess too."

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