Switchbacks star shares emotional story behind jersey number

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 18:21:00-04

Midfielder Jordan Burt has been wearing #44 since 2016, the same year his good friend–and college roommate–Andrew Smith, passed away.

"Andrew was a 7 footer–big guy, so he wore a big number.  #44.  He was an amazing husband, an amazing friend, and a man of faith.  I wear it to honor him."

Smith was a standout center at Butler, playing in two NCAA Final Fours during his career there.

"[He] went from the highest of highs–of playing D1 basketball, going to a couple national championships, signing a pro contract in Europe, getting married–to the lowest of lows, of being diagnosed with cancer," Burt told News5 Sports.

Smith lived three months longer than expected, thanks to a bone marrow transplant.

During that time, he discovered how difficult it would have been to find a match for his wife–had she needed one–because the donor list is so small.

"The doctors told him that if the roles were reversed and his wife needed a transplant– she wasn’t of European descent, and she definitely wouldn’t have gotten one.  So that really bothered him," Burt explained.

It prompted Smith to start Project 44 before he died–which aims to save 44 lives, by increasing the bone marrow registry.

And already, the project has saved a life.

"They actually did a bone marrow drive at his funeral, which is really unusual.  But one of his teammates signed up.  Three months later, he became a match," Burt said, with a smile on his face.

"This little boy named Deegan  is now running around [a] healthy, normal little boy because of this initiative.  My thought was, ‘why don’t I do my part–hopefully bring the Butler and Indianapolis community out here, to get behind this initiative.’"

This weekend, he’s bringing those efforts to Weidner field.

Burt has joined forces with "Be the Match," who will have a booth set up before and during Saturday’s game, to get potential donors signed up.

"Basically all you do is a cheek swab and you’re in the registry.  1 in every 430 people get chosen.  At the end of the day, just by signing up you’re bringing a lot of families hope."

And for Burt, it will continue to honor the life of a man taken far too soon.

"He was a goofy guy that ultimately got put in the spotlight, even though he didn’t want to be.  And his legacy lives on–I’m just trying to carry that out."??

Switchbacks host Fresno at Weidner Field, Saturday at 7 p.m.

If you can’t make it to the game, but would like to learn more about Project 44, click here.

For more information on Be The Match, click here.