Tyrek Coger was powering through an outdoor stair-running workout with the Oklahoma State basketball team around 5 p.m. Thursday when he sat down on the top of the steps of Boone Pickens football stadium.
Less than two hours later, the 22-year-old from Raleigh was pronounced dead at Stillwater Medical Center. According to The Associated Press, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office said Coger died from left ventricular hypertrophy – an enlarged heart. The cause of death was natural.
Coger’s friends, family and teammates have been left to reminisce on the life of a man described as dedicated and amicable.
“He was an excellent son, he never got in trouble and he had big dreams,” Coger’s father Mike told The News & Observer. “He definitely wanted to make it to the next level since he’d been born. He was a terrific kid.”
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Coger’s family held a going-away party for him just a few weeks ago before the Cape Fear Community College transfer arrived at Oklahoma State on July 5. He was the second-oldest of four brothers.
Cowboys coach Brad Underwood was immediately impressed by his newest player’s personality and work ethic.
“He was loved by his teammates, he was a jokester (and) he had a great way with people,” Underwood said while visibly fighting off tears at a Friday press conference streamed on YouTube. “As soon as he got to campus, he fell in love with this place and he fell in love with what we were about.”
Underwood was out of town Thursday as the basketball team – which is limited by the NCAA to eight hours of workouts per week during the summer – was running the stairs at the school’s football stadium, which seats 60,000. According to Weather Underground, the temperature at 5 p.m. was around 100 degrees.
Coger did not appear to be struggling during the 40-minute drill, according to university officials, but 911 was called after he began to have issues afterward, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Friday.
“This is the hardest couple of days I’ve experienced in my coaching life,” Underwood said at the school’s press conference Friday. “You say goodbye to players when they graduate and that’s one thing ... making that phone call to a mother, there’s no words. It’s a tragic day.”
The final medical report will likely not be ready and released for another eight weeks, the medical examiner’s office told The Associated Press on Friday.
Coger’s path through the basketball world was a long and tumultuous one that seemed on the verge of blossoming.
He grew up in Raleigh but was living in Greensboro with his grandfather when he met former N.C. State guard Rodney Purvis, who is now at Connecticut, at an AAU tournament in 2008. The two were instant friends, and Coger later moved in with Purvis’s family in Raleigh and played alongside Purvis at Upper Room Christian Academy.
“Ty came to live me and rodney at age 14,” said Purvis’ mother, Shanda McNair, in a text message to The News & Observer. “He (brought) so much joy into our home. I feel privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to pour into him throughout his teenage years. ... My hearts ache so bad today and we will miss him dearly.”
In 2011, Coger verbally committed to Missouri but later de-committed. By his 2012-13 senior season, he was playing for Raleigh’s Word of God Academy, a program that had produced now-NBA star John Wall just a few years prior. In 2012, a YouTube video of him facing Wall in a 1-on-1 game went viral and gave Coger some brief and indirect fame.
Ranked 18th among the Class of 2013 N.C. basketball recruits by ESPN, Coger eventually signed a national letter of intent to Middle Tennessee State.
But Coger never enrolled at the university in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Instead, he went to Eastern Florida State College, a two-year school, where he played limited minutes during the 2013-14 season. Following the death of his grandfather, which spurred him to move back closer to home, Coger transferred to Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound center redshirted the 2014-15 season before emerging as a standout center for the Sea Devils last season. He ranked fourth on the team in points per game (12.2) and third in rebounds per game (7.0).
Both on and off the court, Coger bonded with T.J. Evans, a former high school opponent who led Cape Fear in scoring this past season. Evans said Coger’s enthusiasm helped the team from the moment Coger arrived, even when he was redshirting and unable to play, and the two would often travel together to Evans’ home in Apex during time off.
“As a teammate, he was always a spark, always the energy of our team,” Evans said. “He was always smiling and joking around.”
In the spring of 2015, Coger began drawing interest from Division I schools Southern Cal, La Salle and Temple, according to the Wilmington Star-News, but committed to Ole Miss in June 2015.
However, he was informed by the SEC last month that because he had not played basketball for three consecutive semesters at a single junior college, he was ineligible to play for Ole Miss. Coger decommitted from the Rebels and signed less than a week later with Oklahoma State.
Cape Fear basketball coach Ryan Mantlo, who saw Coger help his team to a 24-8 record last season, said he thought the center would excel at Oklahoma State.
“Last year, he was a huge part of our success. We couldn’t have done what we did without him,” Mantlo said. “Sometimes those big kids struggle in junior college ... and when they get to Division I, they really blossom. I thought he had a bright, bright future.”
The Stillwater News-Press reported earlier this month that Coger underwent surgery during his senior year of high school to drain fluid around his brain.
He had been suffering from headaches at the time, Coger had told the News-Press, but the major issue was only noticed during an unrelated CAT scan checking for a concussion. The following year, Coger’s grandfather reportedly died during a brain surgery that was intended to resolve a similar condition.
For Oklahoma State, Coger’s death joins a growing list of recent tragedies.
In 2001, a plane crash involving the men’s basketball team killed 10, including two players; in 2011, the women’s basketball head coach and an assistant were among four who died in another plane crash; and in October, four people were killed when a woman drove her car into a crowd at the school’s homecoming parade.
“This young man came in and blessed us with his talents, his hopes, his dreams, his aspirations, and our job was to work with him ... to do everything in our power to help those dreams come true,” OSU athletic director Mike Holder said in Friday’s press conference. “Dreams are supposed to begin here; they’re not supposed to end.”
In North Carolina, meanwhile, Coger’s death is being mourned by all who knew the man with, by all accounts, a larger-than-life personality.
“I can’t even begin to explain it but he was an awesome son,” Mike Coger said as he tried to fight off the flood of emotions. “He loved his brothers, all of them – that was the kind of family I raised. He loved his family. He was a terrific kid.”
Joe Giglio and The Associated Press contributed.