NEW YORK (Reuters) - Longtime ESPN television host John Saunders has died at the age of 61, the cable sports network said on Wednesday.

Saunders, who worked for ESPN for 30 years, covered college basketball, professional hockey, hosted the network's Sports Reporters and co-hosted its SportsCenter show during the football season. The cause of death was not immediately known.

"John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades," John Skipper, president of ESPN, said in a statement. "His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen."

Hannah Storm, co-host of SportsCenter, tearfully read the "shocking and sad news" of Saunders' death on-air on Wednesday.

Saunders, who was born in Ajax, Canada, just outside of Toronto, was a defenseman in Montreal's junior hockey leagues and played at Western Michigan University, before becoming a broadcaster.

Saunders was an advocate for juvenile diabetes research and was a founding board member of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, ESPN said.

He also mentored aspiring reporters and spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists in Washington, D.C. last month.

He is survived by his wife, Wanda, and two daughters, Aleah and Jenna.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)