John Shulman interrupted Dontay Hampton’s plans for an August afternoon.
Hampton planned to take out a $3,000 loan to cover expenses for the fall semester at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Shulman called Hampton into the coach’s office because he had a gift for the former Arts & Sciences standout. Hampton was heading into his fourth year — one as a redshirt — as a nonscholarship basketball player who had paid for the bulk of his tuition, books, meals and housing to attend UTC.
Those bills are taken care of this year.
Shulman offered Hampton a scholarship one week before the fall semester began, and Hampton almost cried in the leather chair as he accepted.
“At first, I didn’t have anything to say,” he said. “I was literally speechless. All I could say was, ‘Thanks.’”
The scholarship became available when recruit Xavian Rimmer was deemed a nonqualifier by the NCAA, then increased his test scores to requalify and signed with Alcorn State in late July.
“We’re not in a panic,” Shulman said back then. “We may do something with it and we may not.”
He ultimately gave it to the most deserving Moc instead of holding on to it for a potential midyear transfer or another scholarship for next season. He gave it to a young man who grew up in East Chattanooga without a father and became a father figure to his half-brother.
Shulman gave the scholarship to a player who worked his way up to co-captain after beginning his UTC career as the last man on the bench.
“When I brought him in the office, I wasn’t sure who was going to cry first, me or him,” Shulman said. “He was in shock. He didn’t know what to say or what to do. It felt great that we were able to do that.
“There was only one right thing to do. He’s deserved one, he earned one, and he could really use it, and he’s appreciative. It took me back to why I got in this business — to make an impact on young people.”
A few days later, Hampton headed out to get his books for the semester. He went to pay for them before the clerk reminded him that books are included in the scholarship.
“It means I got rewarded for my hard work,” Hampton said. “It’s been a long time. I’ve spent every summer trying to get better. It lifts a burden off my shoulders as far as school-wise.”
Hampton has overcome his share of burdens, including being more of a father as a ninth-grader than actually having one around in one of Chattanooga’s poorest neighborhoods.
Natural causes took little brother Malik’s father when Malik was 2 years old and Dontay was about 11. As a freshman he would bring Malik to basketball practice at CSAS, where former UTC walk-on Zach Dragoo was an assistant coach for his father, Mark Dragoo.
“Until Dontay got in high school, he never had a male figure in his life,” said Zach Dragoo, who spent two years playing at UTC before concentrating solely on academics.
“He never had anybody that would invest time. He had every excuse not to make it. He could have joined the gang by just saying, ‘I’m in.’ He figured out what he saw in the neighborhood and said, ‘I don’t want that.’”
That attitude began before Hampton advanced to high school. At the end of eighth grade at CSLA, kids wrote letters to themselves about what they would get at the end of high school. Hampton’s two goals were to graduate with a 3.0 grade point average and to play varsity basketball.
He did both.
Hampton had the grades and the game as a two-time all-state selection to earn recruiting interest from small schools across the Southeast willing to offer full-ride scholarships. He declined all offers in favor of walking on at UTC, so he could assist almost every day with Malik.
“He’s starting to grow into his own person,” Hampton said. “Being on scholarship now means I can have more time with Malik. On the court, he’s more of a driver than I am.”
Shulman enjoys having Malik around the program. He said the youngster brings a little youthful exuberance to all of the Mocs.
“I was on top of the ladder cutting down the [Southern Conference tournament] net in 2009 — one of the greatest moments of my professional life — and I look down and there’s Malik right under the ladder,” Shulman said. “He’s there wanting a piece of the net. He’s a sweet kid and Dontay is doing a great job helping raise that child.”
Being on scholarship only enhances the enrichment.
“I don’t have to ask for money and I can also put money away just for saving, and I’ve always been on savings,” Hampton said. “You never know when you might need it, because I’ve had some tragedy.”
When he was a child, somebody broke into his home and took everything. Just two years ago, thieves stole Malik’s television from the apartment, which is in a neighborhood that Hampton called “not the roughest, but not decent either.”
Hampton lives in the UTC Place apartments, as he has throughout his Mocs career. This year he doesn’t have to worry about paying one cent for rent.
“I feel like I have to build on it and I can’t get satisfied or comfortable,” said Hampton, who is averaging 6.4 points and 14.1 minutes per game. “I want to make it to the NCAA tournament and say I contributed; 2009 was my redshirt year, so I want to leave my legacy and hopefully we can do that this year.
“Of course, I wouldn’t mind it two years in a row.”
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...