Friends and coach remember Knoxville basketball star

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A Knoxville community is mourning the death of a former high school basketball star.

Police say West High stand-out Phillip "Tookie" Stanford committed suicide yesterday.

At this point last year, Stanford was leading the Runnin' Rebels on a historic season that ended with their first-ever state tournament appearance.

"He was very disappointed we didn't go further, but we wouldn't have been able to go as far as we did without him," said Coach Chris Kesler.

He averaged 13 points a game, was an all-state selection, and Coach Kesler says his leadership was a catalyst for the team's continued success.

"He was one of those guys that was all about making sure the team was successful. He did whatever he needed to do to make that happen," said Kesler.

Stanford graduated in May, and Coach says he went down to Gainesville for school, but dropped out and came back to Knoxville.

While in town, he spent time around the team, even watching them pick up two big wins this past weekend.

"He was there celebrating with us, patting guys on the back, telling them what a great job they did. And encouraged them to keep it going," said Kesler.

Just a few days later, former teammates and long-time friends on the Knoxville basketball scene are left wondering why he took his own life.

"I was just praying he was okay, and when I heard he died, I just burst into tears. Been really sad since," said friend and a freshman on the UT basketball team, Brandon Lopez.

"I just kinda broke down and started crying. I've been playing him, grew up playing basketball with him, against him. I've known him since I was like 8 or 7 and just shocking. He was like a brother to me," said friend and a freshman on the UT basketball team, Galen Campbell.

Coach Kesler says his players are still coming to grips with what happened, but can't wait to take the floor Friday night, which will provide a refuge for the team.

But the last message, just keep it going, will stay in their minds as they remember their teammate.

But we chose to because of the number of people that knew Tookie Stanford, followed his basketball career, and where his story began.

When he was just three, he saw his five year-old sister, Brittany Daniel get killed after getting shot in a drive by shooting.

One year later, a robber murdered his father. In 2000, his mother died of cancer.

His friends say he had a tough life, but had a lot of potential, and are sad he's gone.

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