Tragedy in New York: former Duke basketball captain jumps to his death

Thomas Emma '83 died in a fall from the 12th floor sun-deck roof of the exclusive New York Athletic Club facing Central Park in Manhattan.

Emma, 49 years old, took his own life around 11:30 AM Tuesday.

Police found his body on the second-story landing of the Jumeirah Essex House, one of the city's most expensive hotels, next door.

Police say he did not leave a suicide note and no foul play is suspected. Relatives said he had been deeply depressed. A friend said he had health issues, but would be no more specific.

Emma lived on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He was a member of the athletic club.

There is no immediate reaction from Coach K or Duke basketball.

One of the first to react, teammate Johnny Dawkins, head coach at Stanford: "I can't believe it. He was a great guy. I have nothing but respect for him as a competitor. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

He trained athletes like Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill. He has not issued a statement so far.

Teammate and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas was stunned to hear of the news. He remembered his former captain as a shooting guard with a great shot and an even better sense of humor.

“He could light up any mood and he was very quick witted. He was always a lot of fun,” Bilas said.

Emma also made his mark as being a mentor to his younger teammates, said Weldon Williams, who played forward for Duke in the 1982-83 season.

"He was a good man. He made the transition from childhood to manhood a lot easier for someone like me," said Williams, now pastor of the Triumph Community Church in Bolingbrook, Illinois. "I am very heartbroken."

At Duke, Emma wore number 22 and majored in history and economics. He also got a master's degree from Columbia.

His .843 career free-throw percentage is among the highest in Duke history. His senior year was a rough one for Duke basketball, with the team 11-17 overall.

Emma was drafted by Chicago, but never played pro ball.

Emma was president of Power Performance, Inc., a company devoted to training young athletes. Billy Bitter, 22, came to the NYAC after hearing of Emma's plunge.

"He was my trainer," Bitter said. "He was a great man. He was awesome."

The hoops player - a high school star in his native Manhasset, L.I. - penned a book titled "Basketball Player's Comprehensive Guide to Strength Training."

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