Monday, January 11, 2016

For a guy who represents The Butler Way

I've been thinking a lot lately about Andrew Smith, the Butler University basketball alum whose two-year battle against cancer has been chronicled at "Kicking Cancer With the Smiths," a blog maintained by Andrew's wife, Samantha Smith.

Samantha's most recent post updating their fight has been the most heartbreaking to date. Doctors have told her that death for Andrew is imminent, and she grappled with the idea of losing the person most dear to her. "He is afraid of death, and I am afraid of life," she wrote. "I'm afraid of life without Andrew Smith by my side as my spouse, my protector, my best friend, my everything."

Despite the doctors difficult prognosis, Samantha continues to pray and hold out hope for a miracle ... and to give her the strength to deal with what lies ahead.

Andrew came to Butler via Covenant Christian High School on the Westside of Indianapolis. In his senior year there, he led the state in rebounding, was named All-City player of the year and was selected as a National Christian Schools Athletic Association All-American. The 6-11 center accepted a scholarship to Butler, beginning with the 2009-10 school year, and in his four years there did his part to represent the "Butler Way."

He was fortunate to have played on both Butler teams (2010, 2011) that played for the NCAA national championship before graduating in 2013. Smith dabbled briefly in pro ball in Lithuania late that year, but that was cut short in January when Smith discovered a bump on his neck, which began the ordeal he and Samantha are on now. Though things have not been going good for a few months now, Andrew and Samantha attended Butler's game this season against Purdue in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Dec. 19.

My primary allegiance to a college basketball team is with the University of Wisconsin; I grew up and went to school in Wisconsin and still hold strong sentiments to the teams I followed from childhood. But I've been a Butler basketball fan since the new millennium or thereabouts, and I've been fortunate to photograph three games at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The second, on Nov. 1, 2009, was an exhibition against DePauw University, and it also was Smith's first game with the Bulldogs.

Because it was an exhibition, then-coach Brad Stevens made a point to play a lot of his squad in that game, so Andrew ended up in a lot of my photos. The same thing happened the following year, on Nov. 4, 2010, when Butler opened the season in an exhibition against another Indiana team, Hanover College, the third Butler game I photographed.

With Andrew on my mind, I decided to devote a post to him with photos of him that I took in those two games. What you see aren't all of them, but they're a lot of them. Probably my favorite with Andrew in them is the one leading off the post, simply because of the symphony of arms, hands -- and one leg -- and the intensity of all of those athletes going after a free ball under the bucket. A few frames after I took that shot, Hanover player Mike Case -- the off-balance guy in the blue uniform in the foreground -- had fallen out of the picture ... except for an arm tugging hard on Andrew's jersey. I've included that image below.

My thoughts and prayers are with Andrew, Samantha and their families.

Above and next two below: Other frames in the sequence depicted in the lead-off photos. In the photo immediately above, you can see Hanover's Mike Case beginning to fall to the ground. Two photos below, that's his hand grabbing Andrew Smith's jersey.

Above: Case and Smith were going one on one again in a tussle for the ball. 

Above: Smith (second from left) with fellow Bulldogs on the bench (from left), Erik Fromm, Shawn Van Zant, Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Alex Anglin, Garrett Butcher, Zach Hahn and Ronald Nored. 

Above: Smith on the bench, flanked by Erik Fromm and Shelvin Mack, as coach Brad Stevens directs players on the floor.

Above: Smith watches a ball laid up by Hanover's Ryan Nowicki. 

Above: Smith under the basket late in the game.

Above and below: Two frames from a shot Smith took. Not my best focusing work, but ... it's close up.

Above: Smith, taking the floor as a Butler Bulldog for the first time in the 2009-10 season, is third in line. Behind him is Gordon Hayward, a sophomore who would be playing his final year for the Bulldogs before making himself available for the NBA draft. 

Above and below: DePauw's Joe Bergfeld guarded Smith a lot in this game.

Above: Smith and the Tigers' Tony James in a scrap for the ball.

Above and next two below: Smith in up-close frames taking shots around the basket.

Above: Smith defends Tom Callen in the corner. 

Above: Smith (left) sticks close to Bergfeld on this offensive sequence in the second half.

Above: Another sideline capture of Smith on the bench near coach Stevens. 

Above: A rebound caroms Smith's way. 

Above and next two below: Smith and Bergfeld go at it again.