Smith back home after Portuguese league halted

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM

With his hoops dream on hold, Andrew Smith is glad to be back home.

The former Science Hill basketball player had finished his first game with his new professional team (Clube Galitos Aveiro) in Portugal when word came the league was suspending its season because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

When Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced a state of emergency, Smith and other Americans scrambled to get back to the home country. He landed in Charlotte last Friday and drove home from there.

“There was a level 4 travel advisory and it said where commercial departure options remain available all U.S. citizens should arrange for immediate return,” Smith said. “If I didn’t leave, there was no telling the date I would be able to return.

“In Portugal, I was in great living conditions in a beautiful city. I wouldn’t have been too disappointed to be lounging around in the hotel they put me up in. But Portugal was in a state of emergency and they ended up declaring a lockdown.”

It wasn’t Smith’s professional debut as he appeared in three games in the Kosova-Superliga League in 2019. Playing for the Trepeca team, he had two shot attempts, four rebounds and an assist in nine minutes of action.

However, things fell apart when the coach of the team resigned and the general manager resigned a day later. With the team in disarray, the 6-foot-10 forward was sent back to the states and left waiting for his next opportunity.

He received word from his agent about the new deal around Valentine’s Day. He left for Portugal the first week of March. He went through two practices with the new team before his debut, in which Smith had six points and five rebounds in 12 minutes of action.

“I had a good game, nothing crazy, but just getting into the swing of things,” Smith said. “We had one more practice that Monday and that’s when they shut down all activities across the league. They shut down all operations from youth teams to the team I was on. The plan was to start it back, but as it got worse where Portugal is next to Spain, which had already gone on a lockdown, it was just a crazy turn of events.”

These aren’t the only times Smith has dealt with adversity as leg injuries derailed a promising high school career.

Still, he went on to play the 2015-16 season at Columbia State Community College, averaging 8.1 points and 7.7 per game. He spent a season at Florida A&M University, but injuries forced a medical redshirt.

After that, he transferred to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and his career took off. He became a two-time NAIA All-American honorable mention for the Lions.

He averaged 16.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game his senior season. The rebounding average was fourth in the country. He also had 53 blocked shots, good for 12th in the nation, and ended up as the Lions’ career leader in blocks.

Finally getting the professional opportunity that seemed to be the perfect fit, he was obviously disappointed when it came to a sudden halt. The severity of the moment really hit him when he traveled to Portugal’s capitol city of Lisbon. He described the normally vibrant city as a ghost town with no one on the streets.

The Aveiro team president told him the league was likely shut down for the year. A dozen Americans, who also played in the Portuguese league, were on the flight back to the states. Once they landed, it was recommended they take a 14-day self-quarantine to which Smith is abiding.

Smith is thankful for his brief time in Portugal, enjoying some of what the Southern European country has to offer.

“Aveiro is a beautiful city. They call it the Venice of Portugal,” Smith said. “I got to ride on the canal that was built in the 14th century. To see some of that history, it was great.”

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