INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Butler's man in the middle, center Andrew Smith, is helping the Bulldogs stay center stage as the team makes its second trip in a row to the Final Four.
Only a sophomore, Smith has moved into a prime role putting the team back in the national spotlight — quite a contrast from his days on the high school hardwood. That's because his high school, Covenant Christian, has about 300 students.
But when Andrew Smith took his tumble and hurt his ankle against Wisconsin, millions of viewers gasped.
A huge poster of the 6 feet 11 inches center stands guard outside his high school alma mater on Indianapolis' west side. It's Covenant Christian's way of paying tribute to Andrew Smith.
"Senior year he was Indianapolis city player of the year, and he was out half the year with a stress fracture in his foot," said Andy Gossell, athletic director at Covenant Christian.
Gossel says Smith's part of Butler's success helps add credibility to the small school's basketball program.
"Just knowing that we've had good, solid players go through and the impact that our coaches have had on their career and stuff like that, absolutely," Gossell said.
Smith's high school jersey sits in a showcase in the school hallway. A plaque marking his successful senior season is on the Wall of Honor. And when Smith hurt his foot during the Wisconsin game, the millions who watched might have been surprised he came back to play later in that game, but those at Covenant Christian who know him, were not.
"Wasn't a real surprise in the fact that he was able to come back. He's a tough kid. In fact, I texted him after that congratulating him on toughing it out, playing hard and getting after it," said Gossel.
Getting after it has always been easy for Andrew when it comes to basketball, his father Curt told 24-Hour News 8 during last year's Final Four run.
"It would be hard to wake up Andrew before one in the afternoon to cut the grass or do something," Curt Smith said. "But if his coach called a 6 a.m. practice, he'd get there on time."
Now it's prime time for Andrew Smith, the big guy from a small school, making a big impact on the biggest stage in college basketball.
"Oh, we're proud of him, and just the opportunity. I talked to him at Christmas time, and he's loving it, he's having a blast," said Gossel.
Smith is averaging just under 24 minutes a game, scoring about 9 points a game, and hitting about 62 percent of his shots.
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