The words speak volumes about how Andrew Smith is being remembered.
“He was an incredible teammate,” Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said.
“His leadership,” Butler radio analyst Nick Gardner recalled.
“He was just good to the core,” Samantha Smith, Andrew’s widow, remembers.
The actions from so many are helping to define his legacy - a campaign to register bone marrow donors, an outpouring of social media support and a Butler basketball community celebrating his honor.
Through Andrew’s two-year cancer battle, he and his wife, Samantha, were introduced to “Be The Match,” a program to help match bone marrow donors with those in need of transplants.
“We wanted to be an advocate for that organization and for patients who don't have that voice,” Samantha said.
“Project 44” is a Butler University initiative that supports “Be The Match.” The goal is to register enough bone marrow donors to save 44 lives, a tribute to the number Smith wore on his Bulldogs jersey.
To save those 44 lives, they need nearly 19,000 people to register. In just the first few months, almost 1,000 have committed.
“That's been a really great thing about this last year which has been obviously a really dark year, but that's been a bright point,” Samantha says of “Project 44.”
Thousands followed the couple's journey through social media and their blog, Kicking Cancer with the Smiths, which chronicled Andrew’s journey battling cancer. Before Andrew died, he encouraged Samantha to use the platform as outreach to share their faith. Today, it provides Samantha an outlet in her grief.
“It's been a blessing to me, almost therapeutic sometimes, to feel like you're finding a little purpose in the pain because there are people reaching out saying, 'Hey, this helped' and we always said if we helped one person than it was worth it,” Samantha said.
On Andrew’s 26th birthday in September, Samantha launched a social media campaign asking people to share random acts of kindness, a tribute to Andrew’s selfless nature.
Hundreds of people across the world responded by buying meals and coffee for strangers, delivering canned goods to charities and signing up to donate blood. Those were just some of the many examples of generosity shared using #Smith26.
"It was a beautiful day, one of my most favorite days, by far,” Samantha recalled. “That was a really great way to get through a really hard day.”
The strongest celebration of his continued impact may be within the Hinkle halls, from a new generation of young fans learning about him to the current team learning from how he played.
“I think that legacy and the fact that you see kids to this day wearing that 44 jersey, it's a credit to his work ethic, to his career and to the public battle and to the inspiration he provided for so many people,” Gardner, who covered Andrew’s entire Bulldogs basketball career, said.
“We shared a lot of stories last year and we've shared a lot of stories this year about who he was as a teammate and his toughness,” said Holtmann, who didn't have the privilege of coaching Andrew but got to know him after arriving at Butler in 2013.
And for Samantha, her faith--that faith she and Andrew shared--remains her strength in keeping his spirit alive.
“I've gotten to a place where I know that I'm not going to understand and get it, I won't, but trying to find peace in that the lord is still going to use Andrew's story for great things,” she says.
“The thing that has carried me through so much of this year is not only do I get to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus, but I get to spend it with my husband still, and that's a beautiful thing."
To support “Project 44” and register for “Be The Match,” text ‘ANDREW’ to 38470 or visit their website. “Be The Match” will send you a test kit, which just requires a quick cheek swab that you mail back. The swab will provide “Be The Match” with the information needed to match the donor with a transplant patient. You're also encouraged to share your experience on social media using #Project44.