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SMALLING RADIATED PERSONALITY

Former coaches, teammate recall the Bloomingdale grad, who died Monday, with affection.

The brief reunion, over late-afternoon appetizers at the Green Iguana in Brandon this summer, had just wrapped up.

Within moments, ex-Bloomingdale basketball coach Josh Chapin, former assistant Steve Moran and Bulls alumni Theo Smalling and Callum Townsend would hop in their cars and speed back to their separate lives that once ran strikingly parallel.

Chapin extended his hand to bid farewell to Smalling. His brawny, bearded former pupil, embarking on his senior year at Hampton (Va.) University, would have none of it.

"Josh went to shake his hand," Moran recalled, "and Theo went, 'C'mon, man, we hug around here.'"

It was the last hug Chapin would ever get from the smiling, soft-spoken man-child he had come to embrace years before.

Smalling, a 6-foot-7 team captain at Hampton, died Monday evening - three days after his 22nd birthday - from an accidental, abdominal gunshot wound sustained in the parking lot of a Hampton nightclub in Saturday's wee hours.

"I think the biggest thing with Theo is, he liked everyone," said Chapin, who last spoke with Smalling on Friday. "He was friendly with everyone no matter who you were."

A noon memorial service, which Chapin and Moran plan on attending, is scheduled for Thursday in Hampton. Dominique Devon Smith, a 21-year-old acquaintance of Smalling, faces a misdemeanor charge of reckless handling of a firearm.

"He was real outgoing, that guy that knew everybody," said Townsend, a Bloomingdale freshman during Smalling's senior year who became somewhat of a pet project for Smalling.

"It's really hard to take my mind off of it (his death). It's more of a thing I can't believe it. I don't think it's quite hit me yet he's not with us anymore."

Brimming with personality and potential, Smalling, the son of a nurse, stood out on Bloomingdale's Valrico campus. Over time, observers say, Chapin evolved into a second father to him.

Smalling finished with 1,239 career points for the Bulls and averaged a double double (18 points, 10 rebounds) as a senior, when he earned Times second-team all-county honors.

"Coaches always speak of the ones they have a connection with," Chapin said. "Theo was one of those kids. We had a real connection with him; it was like he was part of my family."

A sports management major at Hampton, Smalling was set to graduate in May, Chapin said. He started 76 games in three college seasons, averaging 3.3 points and 5.2 rebounds for his career. Chapin said he had hoped to continue his playing career overseas.

"He was a big physical presence but he also had a big heart and a big personality," Moran said. "He was serious when it came to game time but he could also joke around after practice. He was a funny kid, soft-spoken, just a big heart."

Staff writer Izzy Gould contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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