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It was just an ordinary Friday at Hickman County High School (Centerville, Tenn.). We had a game that night and won pretty easily, thanks to T.J. Lassiter.
This night after the game was one of the only times I didn't ride home with T.J.
Later that night while watching T.V. with some friends, I get a text message from another friend saying T.J. had been in a wreck. I immediately feared for the worst.
I called some people asking if he was OK and found out that my non-blood brother was dead. My friends and I all started crying.
I didn't want to hear the details at that moment and didn't want to believe it was true. T.J. and another friend were sitting in the backseat without their seat belts on, the two people in the front had their seat belts on. There was no drinking involved in the accident. The driver swerved to avoid an oncoming car and hit a tree. T.J. and my friend in the backseat were ejected from the vehicle and were immediately killed. The person in the passenger seat was life-flighted and suffered numerous injuries including a broken back, broken ribs, and various other broken bones and injuries but she was somehow alive. The driver did not get severely hurt but I know she is really torn up inside and she needs all the support from everyone she can get. Lately she has been doing better, but I know it has to be extremely difficult for her still.
Another thing that scares me to this day is that I always rode with T.J., and for some reason or another stayed at the gym for a little bit longer. Had I decided not to stay, I would have ridden with them, and I would not be able to write this story as I am doing so now.
Death is a cruel thing, but it makes you realize what's really important in your life. T.J. was one of my best friends and was always the person I talked to when I was mad about something or when going through a difficult breakup. We both ran cross country. Some days in practice we would just walk half of the way with a couple of my other friends (Miles Newsom and Daniel Jordan) and just talk. We used to run this thing we called the loop, and we would run it two to three times a day. The loop was two miles long.
One day T.J., Daniel, Miles and I stopped at T.J.'s cousin's house and he gave us a ride the rest of the way. It was pretty funny. Our coach, Mike Smithson, who played in MLB and won a World Series, still doesn't know we did that. Coach Smitty was always joking around with T.J. about something, and he was deeply saddened when T.J. was tragically killed.
Smitty gave T.J. the nickname "The Dancing Bear." It was funny when I was watching March Madness and heard them say a player -- from I think Michigan State -- was also nicknamed that.
The funeral service for T.J. was held at a church and it was packed. There wasn't an empty seat in the building, and hundreds of people were standing and people were lined out the door. It was a really hard time for everyone.
Basketball coach Ron Puckett and coach Smithson spoke at the funeral, talking about T.J. and telling some jokes people not on the basketball team wouldn't know. T.J. was one of the funniest people I've ever known and ever will know. He was a true friend and an all-around great guy.
There was a home basketball game later that night versus Marshall County (Lewisburg). It was one of the most emotional nights I can remember. There were different banners up, and we all brought out T.J.'s jersey, shoes and water bottle and laid it on his seat that night and every game after that.
T.J. was our center and was the one we used for the tipoff each game. This night, we started four players to symbolize that even though T.J. is gone from our world, he is still with us in spirit. Marshall County is one of the best teams in the state and we were winning at different parts of the game but just ran out of gas late in the second half without an inside presence.
We may not have won, but we did our best to honor him. T.J. was a great friend and teammate, and he will forever be missed.
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