By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBS) — A Brown University sophomore is fighting for his life at Rhode Island Hospital as Providence police search for the man who may have sucker-punched him.

Joe Sharkey, 21, is a Norwood native who plays for Brown’s basketball team. Around 2:30 Sunday morning, police think some of Sharkey’s friends may have had words with another group.

After he tried to intervene, the young man was suddenly hit by surprise and knocked to the ground, slamming his head on the concrete. The incident happened at the intersection of George and Thayer streets on the city’s East Side, just steps from the Brown University quad.

“Right now, everybody’s just sad. They can’t believe it happened to a kid like Sharkey because he’s just the nicest guy in the world,” said his friend and fraternity brother Dillon O’Carroll.

Providence Police Capt. Michael Correia said that while street violence is relatively common, it’s still tough to see.

“What starts out to be maybe a comment or two, escalates into a verbal altercation and then unfortunately escalating into a physical altercation,” he said. “I don’t think anybody that night set out for this to happen, but just serious injuries can happen just from receiving one punch.”

Sharkey’s neighbors in Norwood described him as a polite and friendly young man, certainly not one to start trouble.

Ken Loo lives next door to Sharkey’s parents, and watched him grow up.

“He’s always been a good kid, ” Loo said. “He was a star basketball player since he was in grade school. Wintertime, summertime, he’s always out in his back yard shooting hoops. It’s very sad.”

Sharkey’s mother told WBZ that her son is in and out consciousness and that doctors are concerned with controlling the swelling around his brain.

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