College basketball player murdered at nature preserve for small marijuana stash: Police

News & Politics

A promising college basketball player was gunned down in a New Jersey nature preserve shortly before Christmas over a small quantity of marijuana, police say.

At around 7 p.m. on December 17, police arrived at the Hopewell Valley Nature Preserve, about ten miles north of Trenton, where they found Phil Urban, a 20-year-old basketball player at Post University, “slumped over” the wheel of his white C-class Mercedes. The car was parked on a preserve trail, and Urban was clearly in medical distress, having sustained a serious gunshot wound. Police immediately rushed him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

The initial investigation indicated that Urban had gone to the preserve “to meet an acquaintance” and was shot “at some point during the encounter,” said a news release from Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri and Hopewell Police Chief James Rosso. However, further investigation suggested instead that Urban had actually met up with two teenagers — one 16 and one 17 — who had supposedly lured Urban to the park with the intention of robbing him of about a quarter-pound of marijuana worth approximately $800.

A week after the shooting, the two suspects — whose names have not been released on account of their age — were slapped with a long list of serious charges, including murder, felony murder, robbery, and weapons offenses. They are currently detained at the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center in New Jersey, though there is a chance they may be tried as adults. It is unclear when they are next expected to appear in court.

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During his short life, Urban seems to have touched a lot of lives, especially inside the basketball community. Several coaches remarked on his sense of humor and his quiet determination on the court.

“He was a good kid,” said Post University men’s basketball coach Marc Kuntz. “He had no issues at Post. I cannot speak to the situation other than to say that it’s tragic.”

“His quiet sense of humor was infectious, and he was a valuable part of our basketball program,” Kuntz added.

A statement released by Urban’s former club team, the New Jersey Panthers, claimed that Urban “had a great sense of humor and was one of the most well-liked student-athletes in our organization by both players and staff alike.”

As a freshman, Urban had limited playing time with Post, a Division II school in Waterbury, Connecticut. In four games this season, the 6-foot-6, 204-lb. forward from Manalapan, New Jersey, averaged 2.5 points per game. He is survived by at least one sister, according to reports.

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