Hallmark on Final Four: Disconcerting Number of Players From Mid-1970s Die Early

In the aftermath of Nerlen Noel's season-ending knee injury, Big Blue Nation isn't in the best of spirits while waiting for next year's latest best-of-all-time recruiting class. Even when Noel was in the lineup, Kentucky's current crew of blueblood recruits seemed incapable of defeating an opponent worthy of national postseason competition. Off the court, loyalists were blue after Dan Hall, a frontcourt backup from a historic recruiting class as a freshman for UK's 1975 NCAA Tournament runner-up, died at age 58.

Alarmingly, he apparently is the third ex-Wildcat to commit suicide in the last 2 1/2 years, joining Jim Dinwiddie, who was 63 at the time of his death last year, and former All-American Melvin Turpin, who took his life at the age of 49 in the summer of 2010. Hall, one of three 6-10 players (joining Mike Phillips and Rick Robey) on the first nationally-acclaimed recruiting class after freshmen became eligible, subsequently transferred to Marshall, where he averaged 10.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg in 1976-77 and 1977-78.

In a freak set of circumstances at the 1975 Final Four, another young player from a marquee program who went on to thrive elsewhere was UCLA's Gavin Smith. Police have been probing Smith's mysterious disappearance last May. Smith, a 57-year-old movie executive for Fox, was driving a black 2000 four-door Mercedes E Class when he vanished at night.

Smith, whose son (Evan) played for Southern California, didn't participate at either the 1974 or 1975 Final Four before scoring 14 points at the 1976 Final Four and subsequently transferring from the Bruins' bench to becoming one of the NCAA's top scorers. Most media outlets focus on Smith's connection to UCLA but he actually made a hoop name for himself playing with Hawaii, where he finished 16th in the nation in scoring in 1976-77 by setting a Rainbows' single-season record 23.4 points per game).

When Penn center Matt White was murdered by his wife, it continued a disturbing blend of Alfred Hitchcock and the Twilight Zone regarding a striking number of Final Four players from the mid- to late-1970s who died prematurely. Hall and White are among the following Final Four players from that era who died before their time:

  • Danny Knight, the leading scorer and rebounder for Kansas' 1974 Final Four team, was 24 when he died in June 1977, three weeks after sustaining injuries in a fall down the steps at his home. Knight had been suffering headaches for some time and doctors attributed his death to an aneurysm in the brain.

  • Jerome Whitehead, the second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer for Marquette's 1977 NCAA titlist, died in mid-December 2012 at the age of 56 because of chronic alcohol abuse.

  • Guard Chad Kinch, the third-leading scorer for UNC Charlotte's 1977 Final Four team as a freshman, died at his parents' home in Cartaret, N.J., from complications caused by AIDS. He passed away on April 3, 1994, the day between the Final Four semifinals and final in Charlotte. The host school happened to be UNC Charlotte. It was the second time Kinch's parents lost a son. Sixteen years earlier, Ray Kinch, a Rutgers football player, was killed in a house fire.

  • Forward Glen Gondrezick, the leading rebounder and third-leading scorer for UNLV's 1977 third-place club, died in late April 2009 at the age of 53 due to complications stemming from a heart transplant he received the previous September.

  • Center Lewis Brown, the third-leading rebounder and sixth-leading scorer for UNLV's 1977 national third-place team, spent more than 10 years homeless on the streets of Santa Monica, Calif., before passing away in mid-September 2011 at the age of 56. According to the New York Times, family members said he used cocaine with the Rebels. "Drugs were his downfall," said his sister.

  • Murray State transfer Larry Moffett, the second-leading rebounder for UNLV's 1977 national third-place team, passed away in early May 2011 in Shreveport, La., at the age of 56. He previously was a cab driver in Las Vegas.

  • Point guard John Harrell, a point guard for Duke's 1978 runner-up after transferring from North Carolina Central, died of an aortal aneurysm at age 50 in the summer of 2008.

  • Orlando Woolridge, a backup freshman in 1978 when Notre Dame made its lone Final Four appearance before he became a scoring specialist in 13 NBA seasons, died at the end of May 2012 at the age of 52 because of a chronic heart condition.

  • Matt White, the second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer for Penn's 1979 national fourth-place squad, was fatally stabbed in mid-February 2013 by his wife, who told police she had caught him looking at child pornography. White, who was 53, is the Quakers' all-time leader in field-goal shooting (59.1%).