Former Butler basketball player Andrew Smith passed away on Tuesday after a long, and very public, battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and, later, leukemia.
He was just 25 years old.
Smith’s wife, Samantha, announced the tragic news on Twitter following her husband’s two-year battle with the diseases. Here’s what you need to know about Smith, his fight and his ability to inspire through it all:
1. Smith Was One Of Only Three Players in Butler History With More than 100 Victories & 1,000 Points
Following a standout career at Covenant Christian High School, the 6-foot-11 Smith was not heavily recruited, but eventually accepted a scholarship offer to Butler before his senior season. That year he led Indiana in high schoolers in rebounding and was the All-City Player of the Year.
His career at Butler was also a bit of an uphill climb.
He played minimal minutes in 2010 as a freshman, but came off the bench in the 2010 West Regional final against Kansas State and logged a season-high 12 minutes to help propel the Bulldogs into their first Final Four. Smith earned a spot in the starting lineup as a sophomore and shot 59 percent from the floor as the team returned to the Final Four.
Then, as a senior, Smith helped Butler defeat two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and set a postseason record with 16 rebounds in the Bulldogs 68-56 victory over Bucknell.
2. Smith & Samantha Sage Were Married in May 2013
Shortly after graduating college, Smith and Samantha Sage were married and the two were a joint force in the battle against his cancer. In fact, Samantha was the public connection to Andrew throughout his battle.
Earlier this year, she penned a heartbreaking update on Andrew’s fight:
I can’t wrap my head around the fact that there is nothing left to do for Andrew except tell him how much I love him, hold his hand and be with him for very second we have left together. 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 struggle to grasp what they’ve told me and I spend my nights crying and moaning in pain as I think about losing the one I hold most dear and close to my heart- my husband.
Samantha regularly updated a blog chronicling Andrew’s medical battle, giving a glimpse into their lives and the daily struggles they faced. But while the battle was never easy, both Samantha and Andrew offered an optimistic look at the fight against cancer.
3. He Signed With a Pro Team in Lithuania in 2013
Smith intended to keep his basketball career going after wrapping up his four seasons with Butler and, in 2013, signed a contract with a pro team in Lithuania. That September, he moved to the country and Samantha, as per usual, was not far behind.
It wasn’t always easy, naturally, but Samantha blogged that they took comfort in each other:
We embarked on a journey of completely unchartered territory that is professional basketball. To say we didn’t know what to expect is an extreme understatement. There were ups and downs, (and then some more downs) but through it all, we had each other. We were away from all of our family, all of our friends, and all of our favorite foods- but we had each other! We had God, and we had the one person on this earth that we needed in one another. Oh, and we had our dog, Charlie. His participation was a non-negotiable.
However, Smith was never able to get out onto the court. During a medical examination before the season started a tumor was found inside Smith’s chest.
4. He Was Diagnosed With Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in January 2014
Shortly after the tumor was discovered, Smith was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It was jarring. It was difficult to believe. It also inspired an onslaught of support:
According to a post on the Smith’s website, the disease went into remission but returned in the middle of 2015. He underwent a bone marrow transplant in an attempt to remove the disease, but just days later was readmitted to the hospital after the transplant failed. The lymphoma had transformed into leukemia.
5. His Former Coach & Current Celtics Coach, Brad Stevens, Visited Him Regularly
Although social media issued an outpouring of support and Smith’s family was a consistent source of encouragement, the one person outside all of that who was most involved was former Butler coach, and current Celtics coach, Brad Stevens.
In fact, Stevens missed a Boston game to visit Smith while the team was in Indianapolis. “We ask that the private nature of this visit be respected,” the Celtics said in a statement at the time.
The entire Butler basketball community had also been supportive of Smith’s fight. This Saturday the team will host its third-annual Stay Positive day and the day, despite Smith’s passing, will still attempt to raise $25,000 for his family.