The image is haunting John Shulman.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior guard Dontay Hampton hobbled out of a pile in the closing seconds of the first half of the Mocs' 85-61 loss at Elon on Thursday.
"Tay is my man and I can't have my last memory of Tay laying on the floor at Elon looking at me," UTC coach John Shulman said. "If you're a parent, and your kid really needs you, they have that look.
"Tay is looking at me like, 'Come out here Dad, I need you bad.'"
Hampton is scheduled to undergo reconstructive knee surgery this morning to repair a torn ACL in his right knee -- a very similar injury to tearing his knee in July.
His competitive college career is over.
But he may appear in a UTC jersey and get in the official box score one more time this season. UTC's final home game, senior day, is Feb. 23 against Elon at 7:30. Seeing something different would replace the image that Shulman currently carries in his head.
"That's not going to be my last memory," Shulman said. "We'll try to figure something out."
Hampton deserves an honorable exit and ending. He is on schedule to walk -- or hobble or use crutches -- across the stage during graduation ceremonies on May 14. That will be his greatest achievement in McKenzie Arena.
Injuries can take his senior season, but not his accomplishments.
Hampton, a two-time All-State selection at Arts & Sciences, which is a quick walk from McKenzie Arena, grew up in a difficult neighborhood "... not the roughest, not the decent either," he said last year.
Few basketball players stay in their home city to walk-on to care for siblings instead of leaving town for a scholarship. Hampton did. Few walk-on player earn scholarship status before their junior season. Hampton did.
He worked out on his own in the offseason knowing that he'd be one of two seniors guiding a team flush with four scholarship freshmen and four scholarship sophomores.
One awkward move on July 14 tore his right ACL. Hampton spent the next six months enduring the initial surgery and months of rehab.
News that he had been cleared to play in games resonated with the team. And the Mocs responded by coming from 10 points back to win at The Citadel. They were blown out at the College of Charleston. But Hampton -- who hit a game-winning shot against Appalachian State last season -- hit a game-tying shot against ASU in the next game to force overtime.
But he broke his hand in the final seconds. He just grazed his right hand and broke the middle bone of his shooting hand.
Hampton's season seemed over at that point. Doctors told Shulman nobody could withstand the pain of playing with that injury.
Hampton did. And he scored nine points in a 90-81 loss to Western Carolina with a shooting hand so swollen that his knuckles were almost invisible. His hand looked gross but his knee appeared to be fine six months after the injury.
The knee gave out when Hampton drove the lane for the final shot of the first half against the Phoenix.
News of Hampton's second surgery is making its way throughout the SoCon.
"I'm devastated for Dontay," said Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young who knew of Hampton during his days as an assistant coach at UTC. "He's one of my favorite players in the league. I love the way he wears his heart on his sleeve.
"He's a future coach. If he wants to coach, I'll do everything in my world to help him do that."
Hampton could not be reached Wednesday, according to UTC officials, as he prepared for the morning surgery. Undergoing surgery for a second time should allow Hampton to return to full strength and perhaps pursue a career as a point guard in professional basketball overseas.
Hampton's accomplishments are unlike any other player in the Shulman era -- walk-on, scholarship, leader, injured, a returning leader, and then basketball-disabled.
"He's going to be a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga," Shulman said. "He's finished playing. It's what we thought."
Or, if Hampton's doctors and Elon coach Matt Matheny agrees, maybe not.
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 ...