BRANDON — A standing-room only crowd gathered Saturday morning to remember the life of former Florida All-American, Brandon High standout and NBA center Dwayne Schintzius, recalling his strong faith, generosity and love for family and life.
Family, friends and former Florida teammates filled the chapel at Stowers Funeral Home in his hometown of Brandon to honor Schintzius, who died April 15 at age 43 after a two-year battle with leukemia.
About 20 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, the line to greet Schintzius' parents, Ken and Linda, and his younger brother, Travis, extended from the front of the chapel into the foyer.
Prior to the service, Ken Schintzius said the loss of his son has been extremely difficult but the family is coping. He was wearing a blue tie decorated with orange Florida logos — a reflection of his son's career there.
"We're all right, but it's tough," he said. "You don't normally wear blue with a gray suit.
"But I wanted to wear the tie because it was his."
The chapel was filled with memories of Schintzius' life. Photos from his days as an NBA player were in the entrance while his days at Florida were reflected in photos at the front of the chapel.
A television showed a montage of pictures, including family vacations, birthday parties with his nieces and nephews and Schintzius as a little boy in a football uniform. There was also a large flower bouquet in the shape of a cancer awareness ribbon — in Gator orange.
Pastor Chuck Hodge baptized Schintzius, and the two became close friends and confidantes. Hodge told those in attendance the service should not be an extremely sad occasion because although he's missed, "the Lord has taken away all of that pain, all of that struggle and that fight is no longer his to fight."
Hodge said the past two years had been very difficult for Schintzius.
"It was a fight, and it was a struggle to survive," he said.
Schintzius' agent, Frank Martin, described him as a man with a heart bigger than his 7-foot-2 frame.
"Behind this big giant was a really deep and thoughtful human being who loved his family, who wanted nothing but the best for everyone and wanted to share that with everyone," Martin said. "And that was so unusual in this world and even more unusual in the world of professional athletics.
"He was a much bigger person inside than he was outside. I think sometimes that goes unnoticed."
Among those paying respects were a few former Gator teammates, Renaldo Garcia, Livingston Chatman and Clifford Lett, who remembered Schintzius as a player who "sacrificed some of his game for the betterment of the team."
Lett added that Schintzius, who started 110 games from 1987-90, was a great teammate, very giving and he played a big part in the Gators' accomplishments, including their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1987 and first SEC regular-season title in 1989.
"A lot of people misunderstood him because of his size, but he was a real giving, real honest person," said Lett, who played three seasons with Schintzius. "He always felt more of an outcast, and I think a lot of that had to do with his size. But the people at Florida really loved him, and they actually showed that to him when he came back (for a game in 2011).
"That was his first time back in years. So that was real, real special for me to see that they really appreciated the contributions he made to the program."
Hodge told the audience if Schintzius were able, he would remind them life is short and each person should live every day to its fullest — as he did: "Dwayne would be so proud that all of you are here to honor his life and honor his memory."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]