The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Former Duke basketball captain dies in apparent suicide

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Thomas Emma

Thomas Emma, a three-year starter at Duke and a member of Mike Krzyzewski's first Blue Devils team, died Tuesday in Manhattan after he jumped from the 12th floor of the New York Athletic Club in an apparent suicide.

Police found Emma's body at 11:30 a.m. on a second floor landing of a hotel next door. The 49-year-old former Duke captain did not leave a suicide note, but the New York Post and the New York Daily News reported he had been dealing with unspecified health issues and depression.

Emma played at Duke from 1979 to 83, transitioning from a seldom-used role player on Bill Foster's ACC championship team in 1980 to a dependable floor leader and outside shooter on three ensuing teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 7.1 points per game in his career and graduated having hit 84.3 percent of his free throws, best in Duke history at the time.

The most memorable foul shots of Emma's career were a pair he hit with three seconds left against Maryland in 1981. Those free throws sealed a 55-54 Duke upset over the NCAA tournament-bound Terps.

The Chicago Bulls selected Emma in the 10th round of the 1983 NBA draft but never played in the league. Instead he devoted the rest of his career to training athletes, writing the "Basketball Player's Comprehensive Guide to Strength Training" and founding a company devoted to strength training and conditioning called Power Performance, Inc.

Each of the ex-Duke players who spoke to the New York papers expressed shock at Emma's death and described him as someone whose shooting prowess was exceeded only by his sense of humor.

"He could light up any mood and he was very quick witted," former Duke forward and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told the Post. "He was always a lot of fun."

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