Family and friends were left stunned last week by the unexpected passing of former East Chapel Hill and Clemson basketball player Chris Hobbs. The former 6-8 power forward and center was just 33 years old at the time of his death in Durham.
“When you lose a light that young, it’s devastating,” said East Chapel Hill basketball head coach Rat Hartsfield. “Everyone in the Wildcat community feels a lot of pain for the Hobbs family.”
As a 6-6, 225-pound high school ninth-grader, Hobbs helped East Chapel Hill win the 1997 N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A championship in the school’s first year of varsity competition, limiting one of Hickory’s top scorers to single digits and scoring eight points himself in the Wildcats’ 60-59 victory.
“For a ninth-grader to perform the way he did in that championship was really something,” Hartsfield said. But then again, he always expected big things of Hobbs from the first day he saw him.
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Hartsfield had just been appointed head coach at East Chapel Hill in June 1996 when he visited Phillips Middle School to acquaint himself with some of the players he’d be mentoring the next season. “In walks this big kid, 6-5, wearing a full Carolina uniform,” Hartsfield recalled. “I just looked up and said ‘Thank you.’
“Just watching him play pickup basketball that day gave you an idea of his possibilities. And he exceeded all of those expectations – not only as a basketball player, but in every way possible. There was something special about him.”
Hobbs was “a gentle giant, always laughing and smiling,” who was a natural leader for the Wildcats, “a Pied Piper,” Hartsfield said. “But he also was the original ‘Gladiator’ as far as I am concerned.
“He could flat out lay it on people. He was as much a warrior on the court as a gentleman off the court.”
Hobbs went on to play for Clemson, 2000-04, the first three years under coach Larry Shyatt.
Hobbs was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-Rookie team for the 2000-01 season, after shooting 56.6 percent from the field and averaging 7.3 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds a game.
Hobbs finished at Clemson with 961 career points and had 679 career rebounds (15th in Clemson history) to go with a .528 field goal percentage.
After Hobbs graduated from Clemson, he played professionally overseas before returning to North Carolina to enter business.
“This is a very difficult loss because Chris was so young,” said Shyatt, now the head coach at Wyoming. “Chris had to overcome adversity from the beginning of his career, because he suffered a torn ACL in (his senior year of) high school and that set him back. But ... he overcame the injury to be a starter for us, and he made a significant contribution to the Clemson program on the court and as a team leader. What a fine young man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”