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Former Gator Schintzius dies at 43

Posted Apr 15, 2012 by Joey Johnston

Updated Apr 15, 2012 at 07:11 PM

Dwayne Schintzius, the 7-foot-2, 275-pound center who led the University of Florida to its first three NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearances and played nine seasons in the NBA, died Sunday afternoon from respiratory failure. Schintzius had endured months of complications after receiving a second bone-marrow transplant, his younger brother Travis said.

Schintzius, an All-American at Brandon High School, was 43. Twice divorced with no children, Schintzius is survived by his younger brother and his parents, Ken and Linda.

He was surrounded by family when he died at approximately 2:45 p.m. on Sunday at the Moffitt Cancer Center, where he was first admitted in 2009 after being diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML), an uncommon blood cancer that affects only three in 100,000 individuals in the United States each year.

He was declared cancer-free after receiving an initial successful bone-marrow transplant from his younger brother on Jan. 12, 2010 and appeared to be free of medical issues until recent complications, which required another transplant.

Schintzius requested to be cremated. Details on a memorial service are pending.

“He’s at peace now,’’ Schintzius’ brother said. “He’s not suffering any more. Now he’s probably cracking jokes and making people laugh in heaven.’’

Schintzius, reflecting on his mortality in 2010, said his illness allowed him to see the good in people after his often-controversial basketball career.

“I went through some rough times and because of my size, I was never somebody who could hide,’’ Schintzius said then. “But you know what? You’ve got to enjoy every day you’re on this planet. I never knew there were so many people who cared about me.’’

Schintzius was the centerpiece of UF basketball from 1987-90. He remains the only SEC player with more than 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 250 assists and 250 blocked shots. He is UF’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,624 points.

But a stormy departure – he quit the team midway through his senior season in 1989-90 after clashing with interim head coach Don DeVoe – caused him to wonder how his legacy was perceived in Gainesville.

In 2011, he attended the Florida-Georgia basketball game, his first appearance at the O’Connell Center since his playing days. He was introduced and shown on the video board. As he waved to the crowd, he was greeted by a thunderous ovation.

“That meant a lot,’’ Schintzius said that night. “No matter what happened, I’ve always been proud to be a Gator.’’

“I think he felt he wasn’t welcome here, but that wasn’t true,’’ Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “He is an important part of this program’s history. He needs to feel welcome here, regardless of what happened in the past.’’

Last summer, Schintzius received a special award for courage when the Tampa Bay Sports Commission gathered leaders of the area’s sports franchises for its “Sneaker Soiree’’ awards program. He was led there as a surprise and when his name was called, he was stunned.

“People are giving me an award, I guess, for fighting for my life,’’ Schintzius said then. “I don’t deserve the award. The people at Moffitt are the true heroes. They saved my life.’’

Schintzius’ basketball career was nothing but lively.

Known for his “Lobster’’ mullet hairdo, which was featured prominently in a Sports Illustrated profile, Schintzius declined to trim his locks at DeVoe’s request. That was only part of the reason he walked away from UF just 11 games into his senior season, saying he was tired of DeVoe’s dictatorial manner.

Schintzius still became a first-round NBA pick, the 24th overall selection by the San Antonio Spurs in 1990. He also played for the Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, while averaging 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds over his career.

But injuries haunted his professional career. He blew a disk and had back surgery. He dislocated a shoulder and had two knee operations. He broke his nose three times. He had six bone chips removed from his right ankle.

Even after the physical woes forced him to leave the NBA in 1999, Schintzius had few regrets. Toward the end of his career, Schintzius played the role of a Russian basketball player in the movie “Eddie,’’ a film that starred Whoopi Goldberg. Schintzius also played himself in an episode of the cable-television series Arliss.

He later worked in sports marketing while maintaining his free-spirited attitude. He ate right and worked out regularly. Even at age 40, he could put both palms on the floor while standing flat-footed and straight-legged. He could take one foot and kick the bottom of a regulation basketball net while keeping the other foot flat on the ground.

He recently published a fitness book: “Dwayne Schintzius’ Guide To Free And Easy Exercises For People On The Go.’’

“There probably aren’t many people who had a life like my brother did,’’ Travis Schintzius said. “He was an amazing guy with a huge heart. He knows how many people loved him. And especially the last few years, he loved a lot of people right back. We’re going to miss him, but we know that he left us truly knowing what was important in life. He was blessed that way.’’

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