Eric Montross, a quintessential North Carolina Tar Heel and a 7-footer who was a preeminent force on Dean Smith's last NCAA title-winning team in 1993, died Sunday at 52. His passing was announced by his family through the University of North Carolina.

Montross, who played for the Celtics, Mavericks, Nets, 76ers, Pistons and Raptors from 1994-2002 and then became a longtime basketball analyst on North Carolina radio, was diagnosed with cancer in March. In October, Montross announced he would have to step away from his broadcasting duties for the 2023-24 season. 

"His family is grateful for the tremendous support and the truly overwhelming love expressed by so many people as he battled with his signature determination and grace," the family's statement read. "They also thank the many members of the medical community—and particularly those at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center—who matched his fight with equal passion. 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." 

From 1990-94, Montross was a standout under Smith at UNC after arriving as a heralded prospect out of Indianapolis. He also was a teammate his first two seasons with current Carolina coach Hubert Davis. 

"I am devastated," Hubert said in a statement Monday. "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."

In 1992-93, the Tar Heels were ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 more than half that year and never fell below No. 8. Montross was arguably the team's most reliable player in addition to being its leading scorer, averaging 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. In the 1993 Final Four, he averaged 19.5 points in UNC's wins over Kansas and Michigan. He was named a consensus second team All-American — then earned the honor again when he returned for his senior year. 

Montross was taken ninth overall in the 1994 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics and was named Second Team All-Rookie after debuting with averages of 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds. His rookie season was his high-water mark in the pros, as he spent eight years in the NBA.

Montross' loss will leave a major void in the Carolina community, not just because of his 7-foot figure, but his famously congenial attitude. Because of his media involvement locally, Montross was a prideful presence. He was an archetype for what it means to be a renowned player who's engaged and connected to their alma mater decades after their playing career. Montross spent 18 years as an analyst on the Tar Heel Sports Network and was heavily involved with UNC Athletics. 

"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," the school said in its statement. "Eric was a great player and accomplished student, but the impacts 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."

Montross' passing is also a painful irony: He spent decades helping raise money for children's cancer research and frequently visited cancer patients — often accompanying UNC athletes on spirit-boosting hospital trips. His memory will carry on for a long time in the Triangle. 

In addition to playing for the 1993 NCAA Tournament champions, Montross was part of the Tar Heels group that made the 1991 Final Four. He played in 139 games at Carolina; the Tar Heels went 114-27 during his time there and won the 1993 ACC regular-season championship. As a senior, Montross also achieved the esteemed and rare honor of being named a First Team Academic All-American.