Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
FRANKFORT — Sometimes, it’s not about basketball. It’s bigger than that.
Life, even in its most fragile form, is so much bigger than that.
This past Wednesday, at 7:57 a.m., Brandon Smith’s life path took a detour in the blink of an eye.
Brandon, a senior at Adena, and his brother Jacob, were involved in a two-vehicle crash on Westfall Road — an accident that sentenced both to a hospital bed, where they still reside.
Before the wreck, Brandon was in the midst of a successful senior basketball campaign. He had helped Adena win 11 games and navigate through a 10-game conference slate, out of 14, with seven victories.
Now, he’s unable to finish the season. But his teammates are making sure he’s right there with them, in spirit, every step of the way.
Remember … sometimes … it’s bigger than just basketball.
“He’s the guy that will make you laugh and, at the same time, will get up in your face and tell you to go harder,” junior Logan Bennett said. “We always talk about sending our seniors out on a good note. That’s what we’re going to try to do. This is a village thing. This is what we do. We come together and we rally together.”
Bennett found out about the accident early in the day on Wednesday. He received a call from his mother, who was already headed to Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
That was a moment that he’ll surely never forget.
“As soon as I got that call, I signed out and went straight to the hospital. I was just thinking, ‘Why him? Why does he deserve this?’ He’s always worked hard for everything he’s gotten throughout his life,” Bennett said. “That’s from little things to big things … from working hard to get into the military, to just being able to play basketball. He never stops working.”
Brandon is still working. Working hard to get healthy and displaying the resiliency his teammates have become so familiar with.
When the accident happened, the Warriors had practice scheduled in preparation for a game against Unioto on Saturday. Head coach Kyle Bradley gave his team the choice as to whether they’d like to go about their business as usual or take multiple days off in the midst of adversity.
They chose the route Smitty would’ve taken.
“We canceled practice on Wednesday and then on Thursday, I gave the team the option. I wanted it to be up to them,” Bradley said. “It didn’t take them but two seconds to say, ‘We want to play.’ That’s what Brandon’s mom wanted and she said that’s what Brandon would want. I know that’s true. He would want to play for one of his teammates if that would’ve happened to them.”
Bradley said his initial reaction to the news was a state of shock and understandably so. Smith is Bradley’s first four-year senior and, as Bennett mentioned, he’s worked hard to get to where he was at.
“He’s a kid that, as a freshman, his playing time was limited. He then fought his tail off to become a varsity basketball player and a captain for us,” Bradley said. “He’s a teammate that the guys love and look up to. My initial thought was, obviously, concern for the situation. But I knew he was a fighter and that he was going to fight to stick around and stay with us.”
And make no mistake about it, Brandon’s not fighting alone.
The Frankfort community has clawed its way through adversity before, most recently with the passing of Eli Kunkel, due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Eli’s condition took a turn for the worse last winter and when that happened, his brother Ethan was a senior on Bradley’s roster.
At that time, Frankfort and its surrounding communities came together in support of the Kunkel family. That’s exactly what’s happening now for the Smith clan.
“I’ve pretty much been [to the hospital] every single day and there’s a different person up there every time,” Bradley said. “Unioto had the stickers on their shoes [on Saturday], and everyone has their own way of supporting [Brandon]. It’s been tremendous in every way. Last year, you saw this with the Kunkel cause. Our guys really rallied around Ethan. He brought a real family-like approach to things. So you knew the community was going to respond when this happened. The outpouring of support has been tremendous.”
Bradley said he’s been transparent with his players, letting them know how Brandon’s health is progressing and keeping them in the loop.
Meanwhile, his players are learning one of life’s toughest lessons: no matter the day and no matter the hour, everything could be flipped upside down.
Life is precious, life is too short and life, as we all love and know it, is never guaranteed to last.
And that’s not just a cliche, that’s an absolute, unequivocal truth.
“It opens your eyes,” Bennett said. “Don’t take anything for granted and love your brothers as much as you can because anything can happen.”
Again, it’s bigger than basketball. And for Adena, the “it” means a sense of family.
That’s the approach the Warriors are taking into their final four regular season games and into what they hope to be yet another lengthy tournament run.
“It’s always been a group. We do things all summer long, together and we try to build that team camaraderie. That’s really showed this week,” Bradley said. “The guys have been there for one another and they’ve been there for Brandon’s family. It’s about taking care of [the Smith] family and taking care of my players, making sure they’re right mentally and where they need to be.”