By Justin Whitaker
— Andrew Smith had about as special a college basketball career as any athlete could dream.
The Covenant Christian graduate recently wrapped up his senior year for the Butler Bulldogs, averaging 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
With the Butler big man’s time completed, Smith looks back fondly at an eventful college career that started with two NCAA championship game appearances.
“When you look back, it’s about as good as it gets,” he said. “Two Final Fours and kind of an off year last year but a great year this year, when we were able to get some big time wins. It’s been wonderful and I’ve been very thankful.”
This season, Butler finished second in the Maui Invitational with wins over Marquette and North Carolina, dropped No. 1 Indiana in overtime, and beat No. 8 Gonzaga at home in a thriller.
The Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament for the third time in Smith’s four years this season. As the No. 6 seed, Butler handled No. 11 seed Bucknell 68-56 in the second round as Smith contributed 14 points and 16 rebounds.
No. 3 seed Marquette earned redemption from its buzzer-beater loss in the Maui Invitational with a 74-72 victory in the tournament’s third round. Smith had a chance to win the game as time expired but was unable to get a clean look.
“Obviously, we were very disappointed with how the game ended,” Smith said. “It’s just sad to be done really when you’re at a place for four years and you end on a game when it’s so close. It’s tough and unfortunate.”
Butler lost to LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament the season before Smith joined the team. With the Bulldogs based around Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard, Smith knew there was talent on the team.
“It was just a pretty good combination of people,” he said. “I knew we had a good chance to make a lot of noise my first year and the second year was pretty surprising. You have to remember from Butler’s history that over the past 15 years or so, Butler has been very successful and it didn’t just start my freshman year.”
Smith’s favorite memory came during the Bulldogs’ first Final Four run his freshman year in a game against Kansas State in the Elite Eight. He played 12 minutes, scored three points, and grabbed two rebounds in the 63-56 win over the Wildcats.
“That stuck out to me just because I was able to play a little bit and that was actually my first tournament game,” Smith said. “Then coming home to Indianapolis for the Final Four was obviously a lot of fun.”
The 2010 Final Four was a surprising and more memorable time for Smith and the Bulldogs being in Indianapolis, less than 15 minutes from campus. The 2011 Final Four appearance was less expected and more serious.
“I’ve always said the first year was really the crazy year,” Smith said. “When you haven’t experienced it before, it’s pretty intense and a lot of fun. The second year was more like a business trip as we kind of realized that we lost it last year and we didn’t want to lose it again. Obviously, unfortunately we did but we kind of pursued it like that and we were trying to be extremely focused and work extremely hard.”
Butler getting to play in the Final Four in Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium is something that Smith is extremely grateful for.
“It was pretty awesome how many fans were there. There were like 70,000 something people in the stadium,” Smith said. “It was pretty cool to know that many people are interested in just basketball in general. It was a great environment and being able to play 20 minutes from where I grew up pretty much my whole life was really cool. We were just thankful to be there and thankful we had the opportunity to play.”
Getting to play for Brad Stevens, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the nation, was an experience that Smith appreciates.
“In my opinion, he’s the best coach in the country and I think what he does with the players that he has, we obviously don’t have the most talented players or the most athletic players but he always gets the most out of all of us,” Smith said. “We all want to work hard and play hard not only for him, but for everybody on the team. He’s pretty impressive. His ability to just get everyone in the right place on the court and his ability to just draw up a quick play and just go off of it is pretty impressive.”
The camaraderie and friendships with his Bulldogs teammates is something that Smith will miss most as his college days wind down.
“Over the past month we’ve been together pretty much the whole time with the A-10 tournament, the NCAA tournament, and all the traveling we’ve done,” he said. “You develop great relationships and great friendships and unfortunately it’s kind of time to move on a little bit but you’re able to keep those friendships alive.”
Smith will graduate with a degree in finance and has two internships under his belt, one in private equity and one in consulting, but he is looking to continue his basketball professionally.
“My plan is to play basketball somewhere,” he said. “Obviously we don’t really know quite where at this point. Then pretty much do that for as long as I’m able to, as long as my body holds up.”
The past four years have been nothing but fulfilling for Smith at Butler as both were mutually beneficial to each other.
“It’s been unbelievable having the opportunity to play at a great university like this. The fact that so much emphasis is on the student part as well as the athlete. There is a great balance,” Smith said. “I know that I’ve received a great education to help me in the future and obviously I’ve had a great basketball career with the success that we’ve had. It’s kind of been a win-win for me and I really have a lot of great opportunities coming out of school.”