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Jerome Whitehead, former NBA player, dead at 56

Jerome Whitehead Waukegan rejects shot playing for Marquette University. Coach Al McGuire called Whitehead 'aircraft carrier' for his play as

Jerome Whitehead of Waukegan rejects a shot playing for the Marquette University. Coach Al McGuire called Whitehead "the aircraft carrier" for his play as the middle man in the zone defense. | Special to Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 27, 2013 3:11AM

Jerome Whitehead, 56, a Waukegan native and former NBA player, was found dead in a San Diego suburb last week, California authorities said Friday.

The former all-state prep basketball star from Waukegan High School was a starting center for the 1977 NCAA championship Marquette University team.

The 6-foot-10 center forward was best known for making a winning basket as time ran out in a semifinal game between Marquette and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte,

“I had always wondered what it felt like to score the winning basket in an important game like that, ever since my cousin Rufus Woods (former North Chicago star) scored the winning basket against Waukegan in 1966,” Whitehead told The News-Sun in 1977.

“I had thought about it for a long time and finally it came true.”

Whitehead’s body was discovered Dec. 20 by a sister, according to a spokesman for the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.

When she couldn’t reach him by phone, the sister visited Whitehead’s home in rural El Cajon, where she found him dead in the bathroom at about 6:20 p.m. Emergency personnel were summoned and confirmed the death, noting “signs of decomposition,” the spokesman said.

An autopsy performed Dec. 21 found Whitehead died as a result of gastrointestinal hemmorhage related to chronic alcohol abuse.

Whitehead, who grew up on Waukegan’s South Side, was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1978.

He played in 11 NBA seasons for teams including the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.

He told The News-Sun that he “barely made the freshman ‘B’ squad” at Waukegan.

In his senior year at WHS, he was recruited by between 150 and 200 colleges.

He arrived in Milwaukee after playing for a junior college in California.

He attended summer school at Marquette in 1975, working to boost his GPA while working in a bakery production line.

During his NBA career, Whitehead scored 4,423 points, made 3,268 rebounds and 374 assists. Former Marquette head basketball coach called him “aircraft carrier” and ‘muscle beach,” the latter a tribute to Whitehead’s muscular physique.

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