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MUNCIE, Ind. — Dylan Stafford, a 2020 Muncie Central graduate and Bearcats boys basketball player, died near Shelbyville, Tennessee, over the weekend, his family told The Star Press. He was 19.
Stafford was known for his hard-working mentality in all aspects of life, on the basketball court, as one of the top students in his class and beyond. LaSalle Thompson, Stafford's coach at Indiana Ice AAU Basketball Club, said he has seen players train from elementary to the NBA. None of them, Thompson said, compared to Stafford.
"I’ve been around a lot of hard-working athletes, but I’ve never seen an athlete get more out of themselves and out of their body individually than him," Thompson said. "Just, I mean, just a bright kid, outstanding student, one of the most unselfish kids I’ve ever been around. Again, as a father you pray that the qualities and the type of person that Dylan was, you just pray that your kids are that way. And he had it. He had the total package.”
From the first time Dennis Trammell met Stafford, he knew this kid was different. Trammell was coaching a basketball camp at the Downtown YMCA in Muncie and Stafford was one of the middle school attendees. After an eight-hour camp, most of the kids — though they loved playing — just wanted to go home.
Trammell, who coached Stafford in elementary school and as a personal trainer throughout high school, said Stafford would stay hours after the camp working on his game.
"He had great character, worked really hard, was always kind, always fun to be around, always trying to crack jokes and that kind of stuff," Trammell said. "He was just the ultimate selfless person, never was thinking about himself, was always thinking about others and how he can help others.
"... He was one that, he cracked the talent code. A lot of people look at sports in general thinking that if you want to be great, you got to have extreme talent, you’ve got to be super tall, super fast and all that stuff. Dylan, man, he cracked that code. He wasn’t any of those things; he was just a guy who spent countless hours in the gym."
Both Thompson and Trammell said Stafford was like another son to them.
A two-year captain at Muncie Central, Stafford always had dreamed of playing for the eight-time state champion Bearcats inside the historic Muncie Fieldhouse, Stafford's mother, Erin Smith, said.
When Chandler Thompson came back to Muncie to coach the Bearcats ahead of the 2017-18 season, he knew of two players: Christian Wells, the son of Bonzi Wells, and Victor Young. Stafford, he said, reminded him of Shaggy from "Scooby Doo."
But Thompson quickly saw how selfless Stafford was not just on the court but also in making sure everyone had a ride home after practice and workouts. And while Stafford's seemingly nonstop motor helped him become one of the "best shooters" that Thompson had ever coached, it also came with some rules Thompson had to lay down, like when extra hours in the gym was and wasn't allowed.
"At minimum he was getting in (to the gym) three times a day," Thompson said. "I remember during the season, I think during my second year, I told him to calm down, you know, I need him fresh for our games because he was working too hard. He would do some things before practice, after practice, that was constant."
That's just who he was. On the court, Stafford was a fierce competitor who both pushed and encouraged his teammates, hit buzzer-beating 3s, including the occasional halfcourt shot that would send the crowd into a frenzy. Off the court, he was known as a loyal friend who always wore a smile.
►Stafford's senior year: 'It was ours to have': Muncie Central loses sectional heartbreaker to New Palestine
In his three years playing varsity basketball at Central, "D Staff" – as many came to know him – impressed fans and coaches alike with his passion and dedication. As a senior, Stafford averaged 12 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists and, last year, committed to play at Spring Arbor University, an NAIA school in Michigan.
Stafford was an Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Marion Crawley Scholarship recipient and Academic All-State selection, IBCA/Subway All-State honorable mention and second-team All-North Central Conference selection, to name a few of his accolades.
On Tuesday night, messages flooded social media from those who knew Stafford. "Long live D Staff," "Ball in paradise" and "love you" were common sentiments, along with photos and fond memories from former teammates and friends. Requests for Muncie Central to retire the No. 22 in his memory were also made.
"We would like to send our prayers & condolences to Dylan's family during this time," the Muncie Central boys basketball Twitter account posted. "Dylan was one of the hardest working and most respected players & young men to come through this program. We will forever cherish everything he brought to Muncie Central Basketball!"
We would like to send our prayers & condolences to Dylan’s family during this time. Dylan was one of the hardest working and most respected players & young men to come through this program. We will forever cherish everything he brought to Muncie Central Basketball! #RIPDStaff pic.twitter.com/6GumNjtxMB
— Muncie Central Boys Basketball (@MCHS_BBall) March 31, 2021
"You grow so attached to these players, to these young adults, to these children," said Blair Broussard, Central junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach. "As a coach who is also a parent, there are times during the season where we see these kids more in one week than we see our own kids. It just hurts. It's not right. (Love) young fella. Watch over us."
You grow so attached to these players, to these young adults, to these children. As a coach who is also a parent, there are times during the season where we see these kids more in one week than we see our own kids. It just hurts. It’s not right. 💜 young fella. Watch over us. pic.twitter.com/fyZ4kTvpZ0
— Blair B. (@bsbroussard4) March 31, 2021
"A thousand posts made shared etc and not one person out the city had a negative word about you," tweeted Marlon Anderson, a sophomore at Waubonsee Community College who was an AAU teammate of Stafford's. "That there alone tells you everything you need to know about D Staff."
a thousand posts made shared etc and not one person out the city had a negative word about you. that there alone tells you everything you need to know about D Staff. #LLDS
— Marlon Jr. (@mdajr32) March 31, 2021
Even those who've never seen Stafford in a gym were inspired, Trammell said, by the person he was off the court.
Trammell said he remembers when Stafford started high school. Stafford told Trammell that he wanted to play more, so Trammell invited him to come play 5-on-5 at the Northwest YMCA in Muncie on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:30 a.m.
Stafford didn't have a ride, so Trammell would pick him up. Trammell said, above all the hours they've spent together, those rides are what he'll remember most.
"Those rides every morning, just dreaming about, talking about life, talking about his times at Muncie Central and just talking about some of those different things," Trammell said, fighting back tears. "I will never forget those moments. Those are the moments that, when I start to feel sad, those are the moments I start to think about."
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This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Dylan Stafford, former Muncie Central basketball player, dies at 19