ASHEVILLE, NC (WRCB) -- Dontay Hampton has every reason to mope.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior can't play in this weekend's Southern Conference Tournament. In fact, he won't be playing again for awhile.
The former Arts & Sciences standout wanted nothing more than to lead his hometown team, so he passed up scholarship offers elsewhere to walk-on at UTC.
Four years later, he finally got that chance, only to lose it taken away by a serious injury.
Running into the wall seemingly got old long ago for the talented point guard, yet he continues to get back up.
"I mean, it could be worse," he said earlier this week with a wide smile. "I'm about to graduate, so there's still a lot of positives about it."
How about that for perspective.
Hampton finally received a scholarship last year and will receive his diploma later in this one. He has friends and family close by, a coach who supports him and a few memorable basketball moments, as well.
Some may argue Hampton has had time to realize these blessings while rehabbing from a pair of torn ACLs over the past ten months, using the free time away from the game to adjust his mindset moving forward.
Turns out, his mindset never needed to be changed.
"He handles everything like a champ," said Mocs' head coach John Shulman. "In July, I was sitting there in the doctors office and they said it was a torn ACL, and he looks at them and says, 'Okay what's next?'
"Then he did the same thing the next time."
Hampton's optimism is easily -- and impressively -- explained.
Having grown up without a father-figure of his own, the 22-year-old now serves in that role for his 13-year-old half-brother.
"I just try to stay positive because I have to be a role model for him," Hampton said. "If I shut down, I'm pretty sure he'd shut down as well."
Staying close to his family was a primary reason Hampton chose to play at Chattanooga, even as a walk-on. He's remained heavily-involved in his brother's life, hoping to help provide the best future possible.
"I always try to keep him focused on being positive because things aren't always going to go your way," Hampton said. "Right now he's about to start AAU basketball and he wasn't sure about his team, so he was already talking about changing teams.
"I told him there's always going to be someone pushing him and challenging him, so he needs to always try to stay positive."
Hampton has had to spread that pick-me-up message with his coach, as well.
Shulman admits to being more torn up about the unfair ending to Hampton's career than any other player he's coached.
After tearing his ACL last July, Hampton rehabbed fox six months and finally returned in January against The Citadel.
Two games later he hit a 3-pointer to force overtime in UTC's historic comeback from 18 points down, but he broke his shooting hand in the process.
He decided to play through the pain and the swelling for the chance to finish his senior season on the floor. The plan only lasted two more games.
Hampton tore his ACL a second time at Elon, ending his college career. It's a moment Shulman will never forget.
"He just looked at me like, 'Coach, come here. I need you.' It breaks your heart," Shulman said. "He's a guy that never complains. He came in as a guy that just wanted to prove himself, and has grown into as good a person as you can find.
"He's a solid kid and a smart kid, and he deserved way better than he got."
Of course, Hampton doesn't think he has it that bad.
He's adjusting to his view from the bench, and Friday afternoon he'll speak to the team before it opens the SoCon Tournament against Greensboro.
It all seems like a solid start on the path to being a successful coach.
Hampton says not so fast.
"It gets easier (to watch instead of play) because you mature as you get older, but people keep throwing out jokes about me coaching," he said. "Just to clear it up, I'm not coaching. At least not yet.
"I'm working to get healthy again and then we'll see where I go from there. I could try to play overseas, or maybe I'll decide to pursue a career here. I'll figure it out when the time comes."
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