A PIONEERING basketball coach who was among the first Scottish stars to play in the American high school leagues has died suddenly from a mystery illness.
Stephen Duff, 44, was found dead at his Portobello home by wife Shirley-Anne last Tuesday shortly after dropping off his children at nursery.
A postmortem has been carried out but failed to identify the cause of death, although it is understood he died from natural causes.
A prodigious talent, Mr Duff represented Scotland at under-19 level aged just 15 and, but for injury, may have developed into an international star.
His playing career was curtailed by a serious knee injury in 1985 but he went on to become a hugely admired coach. Today, friends and teammates paid tribute to a pillar of Scottish basketball, who helped to found several clubs and coached a Great British side at the Beijing Paralympics.
Best friend Jim Wright, with whom he attended Holy Rood High School, said Mr Duff was an inspiration on the basketball court and fiercely loyal to his loved ones.
“I’m personally devastated but more than that his death is a huge loss to Scottish and British basketball,” said Mr Wright. “I would say Stevie was almost irreplaceable.”
Mr Duff founded the basketball club, East Lothian Peregrines, in 2000 – at one time the top team in the national league – having previously coached City of Edinburgh Basketball Club.
Six years later, he co-founded Lothian Phoenix in Bathgate – a wheelchair basketball team, whose members still refer to him as “the father” of the club.
Davie Gilmour, secretary of Lothian Phoenix, said everyone was devastated by the tragedy.
“I think every single person at club is so thankful for Stevie for starting it up. His knowledge and his coaching style were outstanding and he got the best out of people.”
Professionally, the father-of-three rose to the top job in national governing body Basketball Scotland following a decade in sports development at East Lothian Council. He was also the chairperson of the Scottish Wheelchair Development Group and travelled to the Beijing Paralympics in 2006 as part of the Great Britain coaching staff.
Eamon John, East Lothian Council’s healthy living manager, who worked closely with Mr Duff, said: “Stevie was a dedicated and inspirational member of staff, who devoted both his professional and personal time to sports development in East Lothian.
“His death at such a young age is a tremendous shock to his former colleagues in East Lothian but he leaves a tremendous legacy with the flourishing youth basketball set-up in the county. All of our thoughts are with his wife and children.”
A spokesperson for Basketball Scotland said Mr Duff had made an “overwhelming contribution to the Scottish basketball community for many years”.
Mr Duff is survived by his wife Shirley-Anne and three children Sophia, Lemoni and Holden. His funeral will be held tomorrow at Mortonhall Crematorium Main Chapel at 11am.