Former Robinson High School basketball and football star Desmond Allison was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday afternoon. He was 31 years old.
Allison, one of Hillsborough County's all-time best high school athletes, was shot in the chest outside an apartment complex, according to several Ohio news reports. Police say the incident started after an apparent argument involving women.
Scott Wagers, Allison's basketball coach at Robinson, said he was told by Allison's mother his final words to those on the scene were, "Tell everyone that I love them."
It is another in a series of deaths involving the Robinson community in recent months.
"Heartbreaking. Wow. Just heartbreaking,'' said Robinson football coach Mike DePue from Maine, where he is vacationing.
"Another tragedy, one that has a far-reaching effect on Robinson High School and the Tampa community. I'll tell you what, in all my life, Desmond Allison was the best athlete I've ever seen. He had opportunities that he squandered, but he kept trying. He had a great personality. This is a sad, sad turn of events.''
Allison, one of the top basketball players in the country as a senior in 1997, signed with Kentucky basketball out of high school and played two seasons for the Wildcats — starting as a freshman — before being dismissed in 2000.
"I've got an 8-year-old son and to this day, he thinks Desmond Allison is better than LeBron James," said Wagers, now an East Tennessee State assistant.
Allison had struggled in recent years after a series of arrests. He tried basketball at Tennessee's NAIA Martin Methodist and played football at South Dakota. A few years ago he was hoping to make one last run at a professional football career, but it never materialized.
When Allison left Robinson, he did so as arguably the county's best dual athlete ever. As a football player, he had 38 catches, 15 for touchdowns, and on the basketball court he averaged a triple double: 34.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 10 assists as a senior. He led Robinson to the state final four in 1998, the Knights' first state tournament berth in 18 years.
"I don't know of one classmate that didn't love Dez," said former Knights and Florida Atlantic basketball standout Cedric Powell, who met Allison at Monroe Middle School the first day of seventh grade and became one of his best friends.
"It's sad because when people think of Robinson in 1997-98, they automatically think of Dez, they think of what could've been. And to this day I get asked about Dez."
Powell said he last communicated with Allison on Facebook a month or two ago. He said he heard Allison, a Columbus native, had gone to Ohio because one of his four children needed an operation.
"I hoped and prayed things were turning around," Powell said.
DePue saw Allison last during the fall football season, when Allison stopped by to visit his former coach and the Knights.
"He was just Dez,'' DePue said. "Happy-go-lucky and smiling. Man, this just beats you down when you see your children, when you see kids you helped raise die before you do. He was like one of my sons.''
Friend and former Tampa Prep standout Andrikk Frazier said he last saw Allison at a Tracy McGrady summer basketball tournament in Auburndale. He said the two had played in the tournament the past five years, but this was the first summer Allison didn't come home to Tampa.
He said he was sad and upset at the loss.
"Desmond was a good man, even though he did get into trouble and have some issues, but more of those were bad judgment calls,'' Frazier said. "He wasn't really a bad person.''
Allison's death comes in the wake of a series of other tragedies directly linked to Robinson High.
In June, 16-year-old student Kiara Brito and her 13-year-old brother, Jeremi, were murdered in their home during an early-morning invasion. Two men, including former Armwood High football star Tavari Grant, were charged.
In September, 34-year-old Knights cheerleading coach Tina Maiorana was found dead in her apartment complex. She had a history of heart problems.