TAMPA — Tonight's USF-Hampton game was intended to be a homecoming for senior forward Theo Smalling, a Bloomingdale graduate who had started 76 games in his first three seasons at the Virginia school.
Instead, it will be an emotional night for the Pirates, who lost Smalling just three days after his 22nd birthday on Oct. 26 when he died from injuries suffered in an accidental shooting.
"He was the captain of our team. He was the backbone, and a big brother to the kids on our team," Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. said Tuesday night as his team practiced in the Sun Dome.
"It's hard, but it's also something they wanted to do. The memory is there."
USF will hold a moment of silence for Smalling, a 6-foot-7 forward whose No. 12 jersey will be laid over a chair on the Pirates' bench, as it has in each game. His parents, Carl Smalling and Shelley George, are expected to attend as well as a large number of friends, relatives and former teammates from Bloomingdale.
Smalling was on course to graduate in May, and his family has received an honorary degree from Hampton. Joyner said his spirit will be with the Pirates this season and beyond.
"When you work with young adults, one of the things you hope is that they get it before the next stage of their lives," Joyner said. "Theo was one of those kids who got it."