#AndrewSmithStrong: A Bulldog Fights For His Life

Brad Stevens put “family” first last week, there which is why you may have noticed that he wasn’t lurking over the Celtics bench when they took on the Bulls on Thursday night.   Instead, viagra Stevens left the team for the evening to visit a former player he coached at Butler who is battling cancer at home in Indiana.  Stevens’ decisions to leave the team and miss a game mid-season spoke volumes to his team about his character, values, and leadership.  In the wake of his brief departure, Celtics players lauded the emphasis his coaching puts on personal relationships and caring deeply for all of his players. But for Stevens, the last thing on his mind was basketball.

“It was just the fact that the conditions were worsening, I’ll let them talk about his condition. But I’m glad that I went. It’s not as tough on me as it is, certainly, on them, but it’s certainly emotionally very challenging. It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective.”

When I read that Stevens would miss the Bulls-Celtics game late Thursday afternoon to visit a former player, I was reminded of a Matt Norlander College Basketball feature from March about a former Butler Big Man who had gone through the hell of cancer and cardiac arrest and lived to tell his harrowing story.  After some quick research, I was devastated to find out that Stevens’ trip was to visit the same player featured in the CBS Sports story and that his outlook was not as good as it was last year.

This player is Andrew Smith, who competed for Stevens in both of Butler’s trips to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011.  The 6’11’’ Center was a vocal leader on his team and ended his Butler career in 2013 5th in school history in games played, 12th in rebounding and 25th in points scored.  At Butler, Smith played his best games when they featured his biggest match ups.  In his Senior season, Smith matched the play of future NBA draft picks Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Mike Muscala, helping Butler to come out with wins against all three opponents.

After spending the summer with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Smith signed with Neptunas, a Lithuanian basketball club for the 2013-2014 season.  Smith and his wife Samantha’s time in Lithuania ended quickly when he discovered a lump on his neck causing him difficulty breathing.  The Smiths were unable to get timely and trustworthy medical attention in Lithuania so as Andrew’s condition worsened, they drove 300 km to catch a transatlantic flight to Chicago only to race the 3 hour drive to Indianapolis trying to beat a snowstorm.  In Indianapolis, it was apparent that Smith needed to get to the hospital immediately.  There, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare condition of non-Hodgkin’s with only 2,000 documented cases per year.

Smith quickly began battling this acute illness by enduring two brutal rounds of chemotherapy.  He survived with the support of his family and friends and visits and well wishes from Stevens, Butler assistant coach Terry Johnson, and Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano who fought off leukemia the year before.  He spent months at a time in the hospital, confined to watching UConn’s improbable run to the 2014 national title from his hospital room.

Through it all, Andrew is said to have never complained, calming those around him with games of poker and Seinfeld marathons.  When his nausea from the chemo moderately subsided, Smith decided to put his Butler accounting degree to work at a family friend’s leasing and finance company.  On his third day on the job, the unthinkable happened.  Smith collapsed in his cubicle, going into cardiac arrest, and lying technically dead for more than 20 minutes.  Paramedics on the scene believed Smith to be gone, and if there was any hope of reviving him, the odds were overwhelming that he would live the remainder of his life as a vegetable.  Upon arriving at the hospital, Smith was put into a medically induced coma for 3 days in which case only 2% of patients walk out of the hospital without physical or neurological effects.   But Andrew Smith did just that, with the support of his wife Sam, and his many many fans, including Brad Stevens.

“It’s an absolute miracle. There is no other way to interpret this. They’ve been through more in a 20-month marriage than a lot of people go through in the first 20 years. I was amazed. He amazes me every time I talk to him. When he got to Butler he was a really bright guy trying to find his way playing basketball. He became one of the most confident, toughest, hardest-working players I’ve ever coached. And Sam is an absolute rock.” – Brad Stevens

Smith returned to his job with a defibrillator in his chest, while enduring more chemotherapy treatments and coaching in a youth basketball league saying,

“I’m not on this earth to go out and play basketball games. I’m on this earth to share a story people can hear. . . . Our faith gives everything that happened last year a purpose. … If I was going to bring one person back from a dark place, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of letters, then this entire year was worth it.”

Unfortunately Andrew Smith’s health crisis did not end when he miraculously regained full control of his body a week after his collapse.  In November 2015, the lymphoma required him to receive a bone marrow transplant, which kept him in the hospital on and off, but mostly on, until now.  This morning, January 10th, Samantha Smith posted on the couple’s blog ‘Kicking Cancer with the Smiths’  that Andrew’s time on earth was likely coming to an end.

“The doctors tell me death is imminent and that Andrew is going to die from this disease. There are no treatments, no clinical trials…there is nothing left to do…I’m sorry to have broken all of your hearts this morning. It is not lost on me how many care so deeply for Andrew. He’s an easy one to love. So again, I ask for prayers for his miraculous healing- and soon. I ask for strength and peace. I ask that you keep Andrew, myself, and our families and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time. God has granted us miracles before in Andrew’s life, He has saved it once before, and we pray and plead that He does it yet again.”

In light of this shattering news, an outpouring of thoughts and prayers has come from the college basketball community.  As you start your week, keep Andrew and his family in your thoughts, and spread the word with #AndrewSmithStrong.

Category: NBA, NCAA

About the author: Jamie Litoff. NBA Correspondent. Jamie is an Evanston native and devoted Bulls, Bears, Cubs and Michigan Wolverines fan. A Big Ten girl through and through, Jamie graduated from Michigan before finishing her Masters degree in Sports Administration at Northwestern last year. Passionate about the intersection of sports and technology, Jamie works in digital media and sponsorship at Intersport in Chicago. In her free time, you can find her repping the 300 level of the UC at Bulls games, eating wings at the Birds Nest, laying on a North Side beach or listening to podcasts. Follow her @jamielitoff on Twitter and Instagram.

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