UNO men’s basketball coach Mark Slessinger calls Matt Derenbecker one of the players he most enjoyed coaching.
So when news of Derenbecker’s death spread Sunday afternoon, it sent shock waves through his program.
“He had a special place in all of our hearts,” Slessinger said. “A great sense of humor, a great smile, quick wit and he was so competitive. Just a fun kid to be around.”
Derenbecker was found dead Sunday morning, Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Layrisson said. He was 22.
The former LSU and UNO player was found in a pool at a friend’s house in the Weinberger Trace subdivision at about 10 a.m. Police were not ready to call it a drowning until the Tangipahoa coroner’s office completes an autopsy. There appeared to be no foul play, Layrisson said.
“He has a tremendous family, and my heart breaks for them,” Slessinger said. “He was a special kid. I enjoyed coaching him.”
Derenbecker was a standout in high school at Country Day, where he was named Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009 and 2010. He signed with LSU, picking the Tigers as one of the nation’s top 100 recruits for the Class of 2010.
Former LSU guard Andre Stringer arrived in Baton Rouge at the same time and was devastated by Sunday’s news.
“I’m extremely upset and disappointed,” Stringer said. “I’m at a loss for words, honestly.”
Stringer and Derenbecker spent time as roommates.
“There are so many good memories,” Stringer said. “He was a funny guy. What I liked about him is that he would give you the last shirt off his back if he had it. He was just that type of guy. There were times when I needed something and he would help me out. He was just a fun guy. He cracked a lot of jokes, even with the coaches sometimes. He was definitely a character.”
As a 6-foot-7 guard/forward, Derenbecker started 16 games as a freshman, averaging 6.5 points before deciding to transfer in August 2011 for “personal matters.”
“I was doing pretty well on the court at LSU,” Derenbecker told The Advocate in November. “I just had so many distractions around me. I wasn’t mature enough to handle it. I realized from a basketball standpoint that, with the system they ran, I didn’t see myself excelling. I thought, if I wanted to further my basketball career, I needed to make a change.”
He ended up at Dayton and, after sitting out a year per NCAA rules, he averaged 4.5 points in the 2012-13 season.
“It’s one of the best basketball venues you can ask for,” Derenbecker said of Dayton. “It’s incredible — 13,000 fans every game. But the climate there didn’t suit me, and I felt like I needed to get back home and be closer to my family.”
He transferred to UNO after that season and received a waiver to play right away. He averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 11 games for the Privateers before leaving the team in January for unspecified medical reasons.
UNO’s Travis Avery has known Derenbecker since high school; they also were teammates at Country Day. Avery said it was still too early to reflect on his former teammate’s life.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “He was a great guy. It’s a tough situation, and I still can’t believe it.”
Slessinger said he and his staff contacted their players to inform them of the news.
“Everyone is just in shock and disbelief,” he said. “I could say a million good things about Matt.”