Andrew Smith, Former Butler Basketball Player, Dies from Cancer at Age 25

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

LEXINGTON, KY - MARCH 23:  Andrew Smith #44 of the Butler Bulldogs reacts as the Marquette Golden Eagles celebrate after defeating the Bulldogs during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena on March 23, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Former Butler basketball player Andrew Smith, who helped the Bulldogs to two Final Four appearances, died from cancer Tuesday. He was 25.

"Andrew peacefully passed away in his sleep and in my arms as I told him I loved him this morning. Love you always, Smith," Smith's wife, Samantha, wrote in a tweet.

Butler released a statement through university president James Danko and vice president/director of athletics Barry Collier:

The Butler community is profoundly sad today with the news of Andrew's passing. We saw the way Andrew fought on the basketball court and we saw the way he fought for his health. In both cases, we saw the best of Andrew Smith. But that's what we always saw from Andrew. He gave his all, all the time. As an Academic All-American, he represented the best of Butler in the classroom and on the court. Above all else, what made Andrew special was the way that he genuinely cared for others. Within his large frame was an even larger heart. He is, was, and always will be a Bulldog. The Butler community is proud to have been part of his life, and our thoughts are with his wife, Samantha; his parents, Debbie and Curt; and the rest of his family. 

Smith was diagnosed with cancer in early 2014 while playing professional basketball in Lithuania for Neptunas. He returned to the United States to undergo treatment, which included aggressive chemotherapy. 

Smith went into cardiac arrest on July 31, 2014, and was technically dead for more than 22 minutes before emergency medical professionals were able to revive him. That incident led to him being placed in a medically induced coma, after which only 2 percent of patients return to normal brain function, per CBS Sports' Matt Norlander.

"You just never want to imagine, let alone have the conversations, 'We're worried your husband's going to go brain-dead. We think he's going to be a vegetable when he comes out,'" Samantha Smith told Norlander. "That was the first day. That was one of the lower points. I was preparing myself for him not to be 'Andrew' anymore. ... I was at a breaking point."

Smith was one of those rare cases. He woke up from his coma Aug. 3 and returned to full brain function. That December, he received what he believed to be his final treatment and then entered "maintenance," which refers to the regular checkups for patients in remission to ensure the cancer does not reoccur. 

But Smith's cancer returned in April, and this time, it was far more aggressive. He underwent more rounds of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant in November. Samantha Smith wrote on her blog in December that the transplant proved ineffective and that Andrew's cancer had developed into a form of leukemia.

"At this point, the transplant has failed," Samantha Smith wrote. "Essentially, this vicious disease has chewed up and spit out every single drug and treatment we have tried in the past two years like it was nothing."

In a Jan. 10 update, Samantha wrote doctors informed her that Andrew's death was "imminent." The cancer had spread, and there was no form of treatment that could save him:

He is afraid of death and I am afraid of life. I'm afraid of life without Andrew Smith by my side as my spouse, my protector, my best friend, my everything. My heart breaks into a million pieces thinking of all who would lose so much if he goes—a friend, a son, a brother, a teammate, and an inspiration to us all. We would all lose so much because he has impacted every single person that he has ever come into contact with. His kindness is instantaneous to strangers and his caring nature and ever-gentle heart is felt by every person lucky enough to have any sort of relationship with him.

Smith brought an infectious joy to the basketball court and had an underrated all-around game. He spent four years at Butler, climbing from a little-used reserve to an integral piece of the Bulldogs' 2011 run to the national championship game. His ability to spread the floor made him a unique fit in Brad Stevens' offense, and Butler won two conference championships during his four years.

Stevens tweeted his condolences Tuesday, writing, "To the toughest guy I ever met—Thank you, Andrew. We love you and will always be inspired by you." Stevens commented further on Smith, via Matt Glenesk of the Indy Star:

In addition to his on-court accomplishments, Smith was an academic All-American and won a Senior CLASS Award for his work in the classroom. He is survived by his wife, Samantha; his father, Curt; his mother, Debbie; and three siblings. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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