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The University of Tennessee at Martin men's basketball coach, Anthony Stewart, died suddenly on Sunday. He was 50 years old. Stewart's passing comes as the team was slated to open its season later this month. He was preparing to enter his fifth season at the helm of the Skyhawks program.

"We are stunned to hear this tragic news," Skyhawk athletic director Kurt McGuffin said. "Coach Stewart was a true leader to every one of the young men he coached. He emphasized the meaning of a college degree and instilled professionalism in each of his student-athletes. We ask for privacy during this difficult time."

The cause of Stewart's death at this time is unknown. Stadium's Jeff Goodman reports that he tested negative for COVID-19 this past Monday.

Stewart took over as UT Martin's coach in 2016 when he was promoted from associate head coach to head coach to succeed Heath Schroyer. In his debut season, he guided the Skyhawks to 22 victories, equaling the school record for most wins in a single season. That season the Skyhawks won their first-ever outright Ohio Valley Conference West division championship.

"What I will remember most about Coach Stewart was his focus in developing our young men to be leaders in their community, leaders in the workforce and leaders in their homes," UT Martin Chancellor Dr. Keith Carver said. "He always stressed the development of the entire person, well beyond athletics."

Martin began his athletics career as a baseball and basketball player at Mount Union in the early 1990s. In the early aughts, he paid his dues as an assistant on the small college circuit -- at Columbus State and at Long Beach State -- before breaking through as an assistant at Wyoming in 2007. He then made stops as an assistant at Southern Illinois, Ohio and UT Martin in the years that followed before UT Martin elevated him to fill its head coaching position.

It's unclear at this time who will take over the program in the wake of Stewart's sudden passing. Whoever it is will inherit a team that went 9-20 last season but has plenty of talented stars, among them Parker Stewart, Anthony's son, who transferred from Pittsburgh in 2018 to play for his father. Stewart averaged 19.2 points per game last season.