Brad Stevens skips Celtics game to visit gravely ill ex-Butler player

Brad Stevens skipped Thursday's Celtics game.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens has always preached family first, and he backed up those words with action Thursday when he skipped the Boston Celtics’ game against the Bulls to visit a former Butler player of his.

The Celtics announced Stevens would miss the game but didn’t reveal the name of the Butler player or the reason for the visit. Media outlets quickly put it together, though, and concluded it is former Bulldog Andrew Smith, a member of the 2010 and 2011 Final Four teams under Stevens who is in a deep fight against cancer. Smith’s father retweeted reports that Stevens is visiting his son.

On Wednesday, Smith’s wife, Samantha, and his dad both posted messages to Twitter asking for prayers and a "miracle" for Andrew:

On Thursday, Smith’s sister, Julie Smith Webster, relayed a message from her brother on Facebook asking for people to pray.

Hey all, I hate to be cryptic but my brother Andrew has asked us to ask you all to pray. For healing, for peace, for…

Posted by Julie Smith Webster on Thursday, January 7, 2016

The groundswell of support started to build on social media, and Butler basketball got into the mix using the hashtag #AndrewSmithStrong:

With Stevens out, assistant coach Jay Larranaga will serve as the head coach. "(It’s a) difficult situation for Coach Stevens and people close to him, obviously," Larranaga said before Thursday’s game. "So we told him, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on here. We’ll try and keep the ship going straight.’"

It is no surprise to Larranaga that Stevens would skip a game to visit a former player who appears to be in desperate need of support. Despite all the pressures and demands of being an NBA head coach, Stevens has always preached to the Celtics that there are things in life more important than basketball.

"He makes it very clear to our players on a day-to-day basis that family is the most important," Larranaga said. "The things they’re able to do away from the court … are so much more important than what happens on the court."

Smith, 25, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in January 2014. He was readmitted to the hospital in December after he failed a bone marrow transplant and learned his cancer was no longer lymphoma but leukemia. Samantha shared the news in a Dec. 7 blog post:

Andrew’s disease has become extremely aggressive. It has transformed from a lymphoma into leukemia; this means it is no longer a targeted mass that we can treat, it is now running through the veins of his entire body in his blood. I won’t mince words; this is very, very bad news. We are worried. We are scared. We are devastated. At this point, the transplant has failed. Essentially, this vicious disease has chewed up and spit out every single drug and treatment we have tried in the past two years like it was nothing. So, we potentially have one final treatment option left and that is a clinical study. We don’t know why this is happening and why this battle never seems to end for us, but we so deeply, deeply appreciate the outpour of love and prayers covering us. Please continue to lift Andrew up in your prayers. We need a massive army behind us storming the gates of Heaven and praying for each and every step we make in the days to come.

If you’re inclined, Andrew Smith and his family could use every possible prayer and good thought. Here’s to hoping he and Samantha are able to share more moments like this in the future:

Teddy Mitrosilis works in social content development at FOX Sports Digital. Follow him on Twitter @TMitrosilis and email him at tmitrosilis@gmail.com.