June 16, 2014
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - The Patriot League has selected one male and one female student-athlete as its Sportsmanship Award winners for the 2013-2014 academic year as a pair of junior basketball players were determined by a vote of the League's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. American University's Darius Gardner and United States Military Academy's Krishawn Tillett are the honorees for the recently completed academic year, it was announced Monday morning.
The Patriot League Sportsmanship Awards are in their ninth year after being created to honor student-athletes that uphold the principles on which the League was founded - fairness, equality and excellence in academics and athletics. The awards are open to all Patriot League student-athletes and each of the ten Patriot League institutions is eligible to nominate a male and female for the award.
Gardner made an immediate impact in his first season on the court for the Eagles. The point guard rarely came off the floor for coach Mike Brennan and guided American to a 20-13 record and the Patriot League championship. All season, Gardner set a great example with his play, but more importantly, how he represented his team and university on a daily basis on and off the court.
In a pivotal moment of a non-league game at San Francisco in December, Gardner sacrificed his body to dive into the stands for a loose ball. While he had seemingly saved the ball, the referee saw it differently and awarded possession to the opponent. Some players may have been upset over the call, but Gardner was more concerned with a young fan who he had come in to contact with -- spilling his popcorn in the process.
Gardner helped the fan to his feet, brushed him off and made sure he was okay before returning to the court. After the postgame handshakes, Gardner sought out the young fan, apologized again and presented him with a box of popcorn which caused him to blush and smile all at once. American had suffered its third consecutive loss that day, but better days were to come as the Eagles started an 11-game winning streak after returning from the west coast trip.
American would go on to turn around its season, win the automatic bid for the Patriot League and make just the third NCAA Men's Basketball appearance in program history.
The Army women's basketball team also made a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a number of years. Tillett, a junior who missed nearly all of her sophomore season due to a torn ACL, has been with the Black Knights every step of the way during and since her rehabilitation from the devastating injury.
Immediately after the injury 11 games into her sophomore year, Tillett got some crutches and returned to the bench to cheer Army on to victory despite being in a great deal of pain. The team was disappointed about the cruel fate that had befallen their teammate, but Tillett never let anyone feel sorry for her choosing instead to focus on her rehab program and a return to the court as soon as possible.
Her teammates watched as Tillett progressed during her junior year from light drills to full practice to live game action. She was rewarded late in the regular season when she helped spark the Black Knights to a 75-63 home win over a tough Bucknell squad by scoring a career-high 10 points in 15 minutes against the Bison. Understanding the long road she had traveled in her return to the court, the bench and crowd cheered wildly at every basket by the California native.
Even when she was not on the court, Tillett was always positive and genuinely happy for every single one of her teammates. She taught her fellow players to work hard and be grateful for every opportunity they had to step on to the court.
The two honorees were chosen from a strong pool of candidates that included Joe Abeln (Lehigh, baseball), Monica Adler (Boston U., cross country), Jonathan Crucitti (Army, baseball), Alexandra Fitzpatrick (Lehigh, lacrosse) and the Lafayette Men's soccer team.
Gardner and Tillett will now be forwarded on to the NCAA to be considered for the national sportsmanship honor.