By: Adam Tortelli ~Staff Writer~
The college basketball community is mourning the loss of 25-year-old Andrew Smith, who died on Jan. 12. Smith played center for the Big East rival Butler Bulldogs during back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011.
Upon graduation, Smith spent a season playing professional ball in Lithuania before returning home to Indiana in 2013. It was midway through Smith’s only season in Lithuania when doctors found a mass in his chest before he returned to Indianapolis for the official diagnosis.Smith was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2014.
With a slight recovery, Smith began working for a local financial services firm where he suffered cardiac arrest just a few days into the job. Subsequently, he fell into a coma. Smith’s story reached national news when former Butler coach and current head coach of the Boston Celtics Brad Stevens visited Smith in his Indianapolis hospital room instead of coaching his team’s game against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7.
Butler played its scheduled game this past Saturday against St. John’s. The 6-foot-11 big man was remembered before the game by the team wearing 44 on its warmup shooting shirts and a tribute video before his Bulldogs defeated the Red Storm. The team will also wear a patch reading “AS44” on the front of their jerseys for the remainder of their season.
As a basketball player, Andrew Smith was not highly recruited coming out of high school but found a niche with the Bulldogs and Stevens’ system. Smith left his mark on Butler as one of only three players in school history to score 1,000 points and win 100 games.
Smith’s college career on the pinewood was catalyzed in 2010 when he played a pivotal 12 minutes off the bench in Butler’s Elite Eight game against Kansas, in relief of teammate Matt Howard, who was in foul trouble, Smith had only played three minutes the entire month before.
The performance only sparkplugged Smith’s offseason motivation as he earned the starting center position on Butler’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four. Smith would not make the tournament again until his fourth and final year where he set a school record for rebounds in an NCAA tournament game.