Sports Journalism Blog

By Jay Smith |@_SmithJ_

Sports Capital Journalism Program

HOUSTON — The late Andrew Smith of Butler University and his widow Samantha were honored by the United States Basketball Writers Association with the organization’s Most Courageous Award on Monday. The presentation marked the first time that the award, which was created in 1978, has honored two individuals.

Smith, a former center for the Bulldogs who played in the 2011 national championship game here, passed away on Jan. 12 at the age of 25. He had been diagnosed with leukemia late last year after an initial diagnosis of lymphoblastic lymphoma in early 2014.

“To even be mentioned in the same breath as Andrew when it comes to courage and strength is humbling,” Samantha Smith said at the organization’s annual awards luncheon on Monday afternoon. “To be mentioned as his counterpart and equal is breathtaking to me.”

Andrew Smith had one battle with cancer and beat it, and he collapsed while going back to work to try to get his life back on track.  He was technically dead on the floor for 20 minutes.  Matt Norlander of, who presented Samantha Smith, said his reporting had indicated that people who suffer from a similar loss of oxygen to the brain normally often do not recover, and many never walk again. Andrew Smith, Norlander said, walked out of the hospital three days later.  

“Courage was fighting two illnesses,” Samantha Smith said.  “One, his very own public battle with cancer. And two was my private battle of slipping into depression when he went in for his re-diagnosis in May. When everything should’ve been about him and his health, he made mine his top priority.

“Courage was receiving 12 hours of chemotherapy and blood transfusions and platelets and products and then rushing to make it to the final hour of the bone marrow registry drive that he orchestrated at Butler University.

Past winners of the award include David Rivers of Notre Dame, Steve Kerr of Arizona, Landon Turner of Indiana, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and the Oklahoma State University team that died in a plane crash in 2001.  

Samantha Smith’s blog, Kicking Cancer With The Smiths, became a deeply personal, eloquent series of descriptions and observations about dealing with the disease. Her challenge to the reporters, broadcasters and college athletic administrators at the luncheon was to simply live with as much love and purpose as her husband had, and to show your loved ones every single day that they are loved and cared about.

Andrew and Samantha Smith were honored because of their commitment to publicizing the importance of a bone marrow registry. The other challenge Samantha Smith issued is Project 44, a commitment to encourage bone marrow registry. She said 264 people are dying each day from blood cancer just because their match is not on the donor list.  

Butler University has partnered with Be The Match, which is the national bone marrow registry to team up with Project 44. The goal is to save 44 lives in honor of Andrew, who wore number 44 for the Butler basketball team.  For every 430 new members that join, one life can be saved.  So the goal is to have 18,920 new registry members, saving 44 lives.

If you are between the ages of 18-44, you can join the initiative at