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Matt Derenbecker Found Dead on Tragic Weekend for New Orleans Basketball

The New Orleans basketball program felt a pair of crushing blows this weekend as two of the most prominent members of the 2013-14 team and their families dealt with a pair of unthinkable tragedies just two days apart.

Leon Halip

Former LSU, Dayton, and New Orleans forward Matt Derenbecker was found dead on Sunday in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. He was 22 years old.

One of the best high school players in Louisiana history, Derenbecker was twice named the state’s Player of the Year after his junior and senior seasons at Country Day High School. He signed with LSU as a heavily sought-after Top 100 recruit. As a freshman in the 2010-11 season, Derenbecker appeared in all 32 games for the Tigers, starting 16. He averaged 6.5 points and 2.1 rebounds. After the season, he announced his intentions to transfer from LSU citing the distractions of playing close to home.

After sitting out a year, he played his sophomore season in 2012-13 at the University of Dayton. He came off the bench for the Flyers and averaged just 4.5 points and a little more than one rebound per game. He again decided to transfer after the season, this time in an attempt to return home to Louisiana.

Derenbecker enrolled at the University of New Orleans, and after being granted a release to play immediately by the NCAA, enjoyed his most on-court success of his college career as a Privateer early in the 2013-14 season. Derenbecker scored 17 points with seven rebounds in a home loss to Boise State. In road losses versus Big Ten opposition, Derenbecker scored 14 points with eight rebounds at Minnesota and 16 points at Michigan State.

The highlight of his (and the Privateers’) season came when Derenbecker scored eight points over the final 5:15 of a road win in El Paso against former UNO Coach Tim Floyd and the UTEP Miners.

As Southland Conference play began, Derenbecker’s production fell way off. After just four league games, it was announced in mid-January that Derenbecker was leaving the team due to undisclosed medical issues. He was not expected to play in 2014-15, despite having a final year of eligibility. Early this summer it was reported his injuries were career ending.

As news of Derenbecker’s passing spread on Sunday, waves of former teammates, coaches, and opponents across the country took to social media to express their grief. As part of a long and touching tribute on Instagram, former Dayton teammate Devin Oliver said, "Make sure you protect me while I make this next step, I know you'll be watching over me. Every 3 I hit from here on out is for you and I'll give you a point. You'll be on my mind bro. I love you Iceman...#RIP Matt Derenbecker." Oliver learned of the death as he boarded a plane to Belgium to begin his professional basketball career.

New Orleans forward Kevin Hill said on Instagram, "Sad day today losing you man. I know how hard you’ve worked changing everything around. Love you forever and prayers are with your family." On twitter, New Orleans assistant coach Kris Arkenberg said, "Few players have ever had the impact on me that Matt did. He was fun to coach, he was a challenge, he was a friend."

Derenbecker’s death was the second unthinkable tragedy of the weekend for the New Orleans program. On Friday evening Cory Dixon, New Orleans’ leading scorer and rebounder in 2013-14, lost his entire immediate family in a horrific car accident. Dixon’s mother Leann Miller, 48, his stepfather Michael Miller, 47, and siblings Zoey Miller, 12, and Miles Miller, 7, were all killed in a head-on collision on a New Mexico highway. They were on a family vacation.

Dixon played in all 26 games for the Privateers in 2013-14, starting 25. He scored 13.5 points per game while averaging 7.7 rebounds. He recorded nine double-doubles including a 24 point, 17 rebound performance at McNeese State. Dixon was named Third Team All-Southland and he graduated from the University of New Orleans earlier in 2014. He is set to begin his professional basketball career in Europe this season.