Tennessee Vols legend Tony White battles leukemia with strength from his faith, basketball family

Emblazoned on the walls of the new Tennessee Volunteers men’s basketball locker room is Proverbs 18:24: “…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” As Vols legend Tony White recently toured the facilities for the first time, he nodded in recognition of the verse. During his months-long fight against acute myeloid leukemia M5, White’s community of friends, church members and the Vols basketball family have lived out this verse, giving him the support and encouragement he needs.

However, when White first saw the facilities, he had no idea it would be his actual brother who would be a perfect match for the bone marrow transplant that would greatly improve his chances of a full recovery. The procedure occurred last week, and on Thursday, Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, along with several current players, visited White to show their support. It was just one of several times Barnes has visited.

“If Rick would have come once, that would have been fantastic,” White’s newlywed wife Barbie told the Tennesseean. “But he just kept coming. He’s just a good, caring man, and you see that when he’s with this team. A player isn’t just someone who produces for him. You can tell he really loves those boys.”

White is a legend among Vols fans, an undersized guard who went unscouted by the schools near his hometown of Charlotte, landed in Tennessee, and went on to set the record for points scored in a game with 51. He was first diagnosed with cancer in September 2018 and spent 100 consecutive days in the hospital, enduring rounds of chemotherapy, fighting off infections resulting from his weakened immune system, and finding courage in his Christian faith.

“When all this happened it was overwhelming,” White told WVLT news. “I gave it to the Man Above and prayed, and my church and and wife and everyone has been supporting me along the way. It’s an overwhelming experience.”

White’s perseverance and faith has been encouraging to those around him, especially the current Vols men’s basketball team, which just earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s inspiring, especially to hear him say we inspire him and to keep fighting,” Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield told ESPN. “It really touched me and makes you step back and realize that it’s bigger than basketball. Life is hard and life can hit you in many different ways, and any way you can impact lives, through basketball, off the court or through your platform, you’ve got to be able to connect with people.”

White married Barbie in October while in the hospital — their pastor came in to perform the ceremony — and she has been by his side the entire time. She told ESPN that while this season has been deeply challenging for them, she knows God is faithful.

“God never promised us sunshine without rain,” Barbie said. “He just promised to be there if we call on Him.”

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