LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Mel Turpin, former NBA player an All-American Kentucky center, committed suicide Thursday, authorities said. He was 49.
Police and the coroner were called to his North Lexington house Thursday afternoon on a personal injury call. They found Turpin dead. Coroner Gary Ginn says that Turpin had committed suicide, but would not say how. He also would not say whether Turpin left behind a suicide note.
Margaret Burrus, his sister, tearfully told reporters outside her home that her brother was diabetic and trying to keep it under control.
"I didn't know he was depressed or anything," she said. "I would have never said that he would have done this."
Turpin was the youngest sibling among six, Burrus said. Just two are still living.
"We had a big family and it's now whittling away," she said.
Burrus said Turpin's wife had a heart condition and authorities said she was not at home at the time of the death.
Neighbor Amanda McFadden said Turpin always seemed happy.
"He never looked upset. He kept a smile on his face, just a good person," she said.
The 6-foot-11 Turpin, dubbed "The Big Dipper," was an All-Southeastern Conference player for the Wildcats from 1980-84. He led Kentucky to the SEC championship in 1984. The center helped lead the Wildcats to three consecutive regular-season SEC titles. He averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game in 1983-84 and shot 74.5 percent from the field.
Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky athletics director, said school supporters "will forever remember Melvin and all his contributions to our basketball program."
Current coach John Calipari expressed his sympathy to Turpin's family and said he is praying "for their strength during this time of grief."
Turpin was the sixth player selected in the 1984 NBA draft that included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, but never had the NBA success of those future stars.
Turpin was picked by the Washington Bullets, then traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His best season was 1985-86 when he averaged 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but he was out of the league four years later.