Central Pennsylvania basketball star loses battle with leukemia at age 21

FRANK PISCANI
Pocono Record (TNS)
Ryan Smith

More than he was a special basketball player, Ryan Smith was someone who cared about others.

More than he excelled on the court, Smith excelled as a student, leader and role model.

Those who knew him will remember Smith not for having one of the all-time greatest freshman seasons in East Stroudsburg University men's basketball history, but for his relentless work ethic, positivity and commitment to everything.

Smith died at 6:11 a.m. Monday, nearly 20 months after receiving his initial acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis in August 2019. He was 21.

Smith is survived by his parents, Craig and Kim; his brother, Darren; and his sister, Katelyn.

"Ryan made a lasting impact during his short time with us," ESU interim president Kenneth Long said in a news release. "He will always be remembered as the epitome of an ESU Warrior."

"Ryan was a talented player and tireless worker, but beyond that, he was a tremendous teammate and an absolute joy to coach and to be around in the locker room, on the bus and in the office," head coach Jeff Wilson said in the same news release. "Ryan made a tremendous impact on so many people through his relentless attitude, work ethic, humility and will."

Born August 9, 2000, Smith graduated from Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lancaster County in 2018 but signed his letter of intent to attend ESU in November 2017.

Smith dominated during his freshman year with the Warriors, leading the team to the PSAC semifinals and the NCAA Division II tournament in 2018-19. He earned individual honors that season as the PSAC East Freshman of the Year and a second team All-PSAC East selection.

Nearly all of Smith's major statistical averages for the season rank second among freshmen in ESU men's basketball history.

Outside the box scores, though, Smith had perhaps his greatest impact as a leader. After earning a starting job as a freshman, Smith was named a team captain heading into his sophomore year — a responsibility usually reserved for veteran upperclassmen.

Even while battling leukemia, Smith continued to attend virtual team leadership meetings and upholding his duties as a captain, Wilson said.

"Guys just gravitated (to Smith) because of his personality, because of the fact that he was selfless, and also because of his hard work," Wilson said. "As a coach or a player if you're looking to point to somebody and say, 'this is somebody that did it the right way,' Ryan did it the right way."