An emotional Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens fought back tears while reflecting on one of his former Butler University players Andrew Smith, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 25 after a two-year battle with cancer.
"The last week's been tough," Stevens told reporters in New York before Tuesday's game against the New York Knicks. "I was happy that I got a chance to say goodbye. And this is really about, when you coach somebody, you get a lot more out of coaching them than they do from you. And that's that. I could go on and on and it wouldn't do him justice.
“[Smith] was special. He was tough,” Stevens added, his voice cracking. “He set a great example."
To the toughest guy I ever met - Thank you, Andrew. We love you and will always be inspired by you.
— Brad Stevens (@BCCoachStevens) January 12, 2016
Stevens left the team last week and missed a game in Chicago in order to trek to Indianapolis to be with Smith as his condition worsened. On Tuesday, Stevens reflected on his former player while struggling with his emotions during a brief two-minute pregame meeting with reporters.
"He got tough as a player. He was a really good player. Found a niche and became one of the more high-achieving guys that I got a chance to coach, from where he started," Stevens said of Smith, who was on both of Butler's teams that played in the national championship game in consecutive years. "But the last two years he's been through a lot. And he just never gave in."
Stevens said he expects to return to Indianapolis to be part of the memorial services for Smith and expressed appreciation with the Celtics for giving him the flexibility to make these trips back home.
"We'll figure out how to get in and out," said Stevens. "But I'm glad I got a chance to go back last week, and I'm really appreciative of the Celtics and ownership for letting me do that."
Clearly battling emotions, Stevens was asked how he'll focus on Tuesday's game. Said Stevens: "At the end of the day, I’m going to go out and do my job and do it as well as I can."