The sophomore, who missed the Nittany Lions' final 16 games of the season after a blood clot in his brain caused him to pass out in practice Jan. 7, is scheduled to have a procedure performed on his heart at the Hershey Medical Center in late March. The goal is to close a tiny hole in his heart that more than likely caused the blood clot, which then migrated to the brain.
He has something that everyone has as a baby, but it normally closes, Penn State team doctor Doug Aukerman said of the hole. But in some people, it doesn't close. We believe that is the source of the problem. So they are going to try to close it using a catheter device through his leg.
The physician added that aside from the potential of more clotting due to the hole, Smith's heart is functioning normally.
Smith has been on blood-thinning medication since the original diagnosis. Without the procedure on his heart, he would have to remain on blood-thinners indefinitely, which would end his basketball career since such medication leads to easy bruising and bleeding.
Smith will be hospitalized for a day or two following the procedure. Anywhere from one to three months later, doctors should know if the hole has been completely closed. If so, the chances of Smith playing again are good. If not, he may have to return to blood-thinning medication or explore other options.
Aukerman said Smith's problem is rare among young athletes, which makes it difficult to precisely rate his chances of returning to the floor.
A member of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2003-04, Smith's absence clearly hurt the 7-23 Nittany Lions in the recently completed campaign. The team went 1-15 after he was lost, with one of the key issues being a lack of consistent play (and scoring) from the young backcourt.
Smith averaged 11.8 points per outing in 13 games in 2004-05. As a freshman, he averaged a team-best 15.8 points per game in the Big Ten.
The Lions ended the year with a 72-69 loss to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament here Wednesday.