Smith Fits At Charleston
By Grant Tolley Times Record
CHARLESTON — For a big man in a small town, Andrew Smith has no problems fitting in with the crowd.
The 6-foot-7 inch Smith came to Charleston before his sophomore season from Sylvan Hills after a tumultuous family situation landed him in three different schools within a year. While life had been topsy-turvy for Smith, and his grades were suffering, Smith moved in with the family of his best friend on his AAU basketball team, Matthew Ward.
"Andrew was going through a tough time and he was on the verge of being academically ineligible for his sophomore year," Charleston coach B.J. Ross said. "The Ward family took him in and they brought him by here to see what it would take to get him eligible to play.
"We checked with the (Arkansas Activities Association) and got all the paperwork in order for a transfer. I know people say this and that about him coming up here, but it’s all checked out through the AAA, and strictly by the book."
Smith said basketball, along with a healthy dose of discipline applied by the Wards, got his life back on track.
"Matthew and I met on a summer basketball team when we were in eighth grade and we were really close," Smith said. "The Wards are pretty strict and they kind of cracked the whip and got me to buckle down academically and do the work. That is just what I needed."
After spending most of last year on academic probation and doing extra school work, Ross said Smith’s grades have improved considerably. He made a 23 on his ACT and is on track get a college education.
"He’s a smart kid, he just needed a little discipline and direction," Ross said. "He has put in a lot of work in the classroom has really improved himself."
On the court, Smith brought the Tigers a big body and an extra piece to the puzzle for a talented team that has hopes for the school’s first 3A state championship in boys basketball. He was raw and needed work to reach his potential physically, too.
"When Andrew first got here, he was about 268 pounds and now he is about 235," Ross said. "He was a little out of shape, but has made tremendous progress in that area too. He’s very strong in the low post and on the boards and defensively we can gamble a little bit with our guards on the perimeter with him in there inside. He has had some of his biggest games against the best competition."
Smith is averaging about 16 points and eight rebounds per game. He’s become a solid sidekick to the high-flying, high-scoring star of Ward who averages more than 20 points per game.
"What’s funny is that Matthew and Andrew are so different," Ross said. "Matthew is quiet, he studies people and the situations and he is more serious. Andrew is the happy-go-lucky guy that is always clowning around. He will go up and start a conversation with a total stranger in the mall. They really complement each other and Matthew is better with Andrew around and Andrew is better with Matthew around."
The two Tigers are inseparable on and off the court.
"We consider ourselves to be brothers," Smith said. "That is what we are."
Smith’s personality helped him fit right in around town and on a team that had already gone unbeaten in junior high.
"Charleston is a small town, the kind of place where you are either in or you are out," Ross said. "That can be tough for new people, but it never fazed Andrew. I think he was really happy to be here and he makes a lot of friends. He fit right in and it’s like he’s been here all his life."