Junior Sam Borst-Smith was honored in Houston, Texas on Thursday as the winner of the State Farm Assist of the Year contest for his sensational play against the University of Chicago two months ago.
A collegiate athlete being honored with this accolade is unprecedented, and the inaugural award considered assists from players across all divisions of basketball. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis, and Academy of Art’s Regina Camera also advanced to the finals.
The improbable buzzer-beater play between Borst-Smith and classmate Mack Montague rapidly became a viral internet sensation and was aired on ESPN’s daily sports news television program SportsCenter before being nominated for the Assist of the Year.
“My biggest highlight at Rochester had to be the play at the buzzer against Chicago this year,” Borst-Smith said before the finalists for the award had been announced.
Unbeknownst to Borst-Smith, his time in the spotlight would extend through to the awards ceremony for this national honor. “There was definitely a lot of immediate attention that came right after the play,” he said. “Personally, with the contest and everything else, I just went with the flow and was happy to experience something as rare as this.”
Borst-Smith saw his hard work and dedication pay off, and experienced, to some degree, what many athletes fantasized about in their youth.
“Growing up, it was always a dream for my friends and me to one day be on ESPN playing alongside Kobe or dunking on Shaq,” he said.
A team player through-and-through, Borst-Smith accredits his accomplishments to his team and basketball program at the University.
“UR has been great to me over the past few years, so it feels good to bring some national attention to the school,” Borst-Smith said.
His selflessness is recognized by his coach, Luke Flockerzi.
“[He’s] a very caring, giving, team-first person and I think it’s special for him to be rewarded for that part of his personality,” Flockerzi said. “It fits well into what he brings to our program.”
The program is expected to see increased interest and growth as a result of this national recognition.
“The media attention for UR men’s basketball has been great and I am sure benefited the school with regards to recruitment and exposure,” Assistant Coach Griffin LaDew said.
Flockerzi believes that the excitement the team experienced will translate to a strong start in their upcoming season.
“Being part of that type of event increases pride in the program and what we’re able to accomplish as a group,” he said. “The sort of notoriety we had with that play will keep us hungry to have a successful season next year and drive our effort in the offseason.”
Borst-Smith’s individual success inspires his teammates to set their sights high for next season and expands their pride in themselves and the program. He leads by example and enables a high level of performance on the court.
“It has been a great experience to see Sam, Mack, and our team getting national coverage from media outlets such as SportsCenter and Bleacher Report,” freshman guard Jake Wittig said. “As a team we hope this can help us continue our success and build on the tradition of our program.”
Going into his senior season, Borst-Smith is striving to be ever better.
“Though we did have more success this year than the past two, individually and as a whole, we still didn’t hit our full potential,” Borst-Smith said.
The team was one win away from a UAA championship, as the loss to Emory in UAAs prevented their advancement into the NCAA tournament.
“Keeping that in the back of our minds from now until the end of next season is bound to give another great year where we can hopefully reach our goal,” Borst-Smith added.
“Sam [Borst-Smith] exemplifies what it means to be a University of Rochester student-athlete,” LaDew said. “[He] works hard towards excellence in the classroom, in the community, and on the court.”
After his senior season, Borst-Smith has tentative plans to continue his career in basketball, playing professionally overseas, or to pursue a career in advertising. Borst-Smith’s teammates and coaches agree that his strengths and contributions as a selfless team player on the court will translate into whatever he decides to pursue.