Chauncey Hardy was on the dance floor at a Romanian night club, partying with teammates hours after a victory over a rival team, when he playfully put his cap on a woman he wanted to dance with.
Onlookers, apparently one of which was the woman's boyfriend, and some with criminal ties, quickly objected. When confronted, Hardy motioned that he didn't understand Romanian.
And then this night of celebration, and this moment of confusion, ended with a fist smashing into Hardy's chin and Hardy's head hitting the floor as he fell. It ended in tragedy. Hardy, a former player at Sacred Heart University and Xavier High in Middletown, fell into a coma and died Sunday as a result of the injuries he sustained after undergoing surgery at a Bucharest hospital. He was 23.
The Associated Press and numerous international news agencies reported details of the incident, and that a man has been detained in the killing. Ionut Adrian Tanasoaia surrendered to police early Monday. The incident took place Saturday night in the country's southern city of Giurgiu, where Hardy played professionally for CSS Giurgiu.
Mediafax news agency reported that Tanasoaia attacked Hardy because he wanted to dance with his girlfriend. Hotnews.ro, a Romanian news site, reports that those involved in the beating have local mob ties.
"This is a terrible tragedy and we are saddened as a university and as a basketball program," Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike said in a statement. "This is not just about a basketball player, but the person as well. It transcends what happens on a basketball court. We feel tremendous sadness and loss for Chauncey's family and those who were close to him."
Hardy played at Sacred Heart in 2006-2010, appearing in 114 games and helping the Pioneers to back-to-back appearances in the Northeast Conference championship game in 2007 and 2008. Hardy averaged in double figures all four seasons, including a career-high 12.5 as a senior in 2009-10.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of a fine young man who had his life cut short at such a young age while he was overseas doing something he loved," Sacred Heart athletic director Don Cook said in a statement.
Xavier coach Mike Kohs said Hardy averaged about 20 points in two seasons at Xavier.
"It's absolutely tragic, and I'm deeply saddened," Kohs said. "It's extremely unfortunate that a young man following his passion, in something he truly loved and was making a living at, has died. It's unbelievable. … He was the best player I've had here at Xavier."
Kohs said Hardy and his cousin, Amari Spievey, formed the best backcourt in the state in 2005. Spievey is now a safety with the NFL's Detroit Lions, who played the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Spievey is expected to return to Connecticut for funeral arrangements.
Xavier athletic director Tony Jaskot told Fox CT that Hardy "had an infectious smile," and was "a pleasant, personable man as a student and athlete at Xavier. He was a tremendous athlete at Xavier as a basketball player. Very coachable, a leader, not vocally but how he played and practiced. We were all devastated. It's a tragedy to say the least. Nobody at that age should have to – no mom or dad should have to experience something like this."
According to The AP, a preliminary autopsy revealed a massive hemorrhage and broken skull. Giurgiu county hospital spokeswoman Elisabeta Bene said doctors initially suspected Hardy was in an alcohol-related coma. She told The AP that Hardy's condition deteriorated hours later and he was then transferred to a hospital in Bucharest.
"We are concerned by the violent circumstances surrounding the death of this U.S. citizen, and will pay close attention as the investigation progresses," the public diplomacy department of the U.S. Embassy said in an email to The AP.
The AP also reported that Romanian Basketball Federation chief Carmen Tocala told GSP radio that Hardy suffered two heart attacks following the beating. Romania's health ministry, according to The AP, has ordered an inquiry to determine whether emergency procedures were followed.
Hotnews.ro wrote, "Reports say two inquiries will be launched in the case: the Health Ministry of Romania demands supplementary details about the Giurgiu Hospital where a wrong diagnostic of alcoholic coma was first declared; secondly, the police will be investigated for not applying tests to measure blood alcohol when the basketball player was sent to hospital — a test which might have saved his life."
Julia Gomez described herself as a childhood friend who has known Hardy for 15 years. She said Hardy left Middletown in August to play overseas.
"We were hanging, celebrating with him, so happy when he left — we knew he was going to make it," Gomez told Fox CT. "[Basketball] was his life. It was his dream."
Hardy did not play for Xavier as a senior, though he remained in school and graduated. A statement from the Xavier High administration on Jan. 14, 2006 stated Hardy would not play again for the Falcons, and that the decision to remove him from the team came as a result of his involvement in an incident that occurred off campus in 2005. Hardy was charged with one count of third-degree assault, fourth-degree larceny and simple trespass in connection with an incident at Wesleyan University's Freeman Athletic Center in mid-December. Police said university security officers saw Hardy leaving the building with items allegedly taken from the locker room.
Bike remembers "bumping heads" with Hardy, typical of what happens in many cases between player and coach.
"I spoke to his mother this morning," Bike said, "and she put it this way — he was chasing the dream. I think he was where he wanted to be. Some kids put it together sooner than others. Maybe our expectations at the time were too much, unfair. Sometimes the coach wants it more than the player. Not that he didn't have a good career here. We were just trying to push him for more."
Fox CT reporter Anthony DiLorenzo, Courant reporter Tom Yantz and Courant sports editor Jeff Otterbein contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun