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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
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Henderson: Playing a round for basketball great Dwayne Schintzius

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Dwayne Schintzius got played.

That didn’t happen often, but on a warm June night in 2011, his family and friends pulled off a major ruse on the gentle giant from Brandon High and the University of Florida. It was an event called the Sneaker Soiree, a gathering of Tampa Bay’s sports elite. The highlight of the evening was a special award for courage.

Dwayne arrived that night at the dinner believing his father, Ken, was going to be honored. He was stunned, instead, to find that the packed house at the Pepin Hospitality Center was celebrating him and his resolute fight against chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.

He slowly hauled his 7-foot-2 frame to the front of the giant room and bathed in the applause.

“It was a great night,” Ken Schintzius said. “We met a lot of great people and heard a lot of great people speak. The atmosphere was real upbeat. It was quite a tribute for him.”

Dwayne had been declared cancer free after a bone-marrow transplant from his younger brother, Travis. But less than a year later, the hope of that night gave way to grief as Dwayne died of pulmonary fibrosis, a complication of the treatment used to eradicate the cancer in his body.

He was 43.

The fight against cancer goes on, though, and Dwayne continues to play a prominent part. A golf tournament in his honor is scheduled for April 14 at Buckhorn Springs, with proceeds to benefit the Moffitt Cancer Center in Dwayne’s memory.

“I saw first-hand how good the people at Moffitt were to my brother, and how hard they tried to save his life,” Travis said. “So when a friend of Dwayne’s brought up the idea of holding a golf tournament in Dwayne’s name, we ran with it. We said, if we’re going to do this, then we’re going to do it right.”

After a standout career for the Brandon High basketball team, Schintzius went to Florida from 1986-90 and helped lead the Gators to their first three NCAA Tournament appearances. With his size and trademark “mullet” hairstyle, Schintzius quickly became one of the most recognizable players in the Southeastern Conference.

He left the Gators 11 games into his senior season after clashing with interim coach Don DeVoe, who demanded that he cut his hair, but still was a first-round NBA pick by the San Antonio Spurs. He played for six NBA teams before injuries cut short his career. He also had a role in the movie “Eddie” (starring Whoopi Goldberg) as well as some TV work.

He did life on his terms, even in his battle against his disease – a form of cancer so rare it is said to affect just three of every 100,000 people. To the very end, Dwayne was convinced he would prevail in his battle for health.

“I always thought he would beat it,” his father said. “He never gave up; that was his motto. It’s a struggle sometimes now, but with the way he faced this I know Dwayne could be a role model for anybody.”

Plans are to expand the tournament next year, perhaps later in the summer when more pro basketball players can attend. For now, it’s a good start for a great cause.

“I know Dwayne would like this,” Travis said. “And I know he would say to appreciate every day of life because nothing is promised.”

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