Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gold Rush win NAIA Champions of Character team award

NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana men's basketball is the recipient of the NAIA's Buffalo Funds Five-Star Champions of Character Team Award for the 2015-16 season.

The NAIA presents this award annually to a member school in each of its 23 championship sports. Winners demonstrate the NAIA's five core values — integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership — in everyday decisions. These institutions and athletic programs strive for excellence in and out of competition and are part of communities throughout the country dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.

Gold Rush community service this past year included the collection of winter coats and toiletries for the homeless, plus volunteering for the Times-Picayune Doll & Toy Fund in the distribution of toys to thousands of needy New Orleans children.

"Building character is the primary reason that I do what I do," said Dannton Jackson, Gold Rush head coach the past 13 seasons and a recent hire by the University of Alabama at Birmingham as an assistant coach. "Basketball is just a pathway to helping young men develop into people that will help to change our world; some in small ways, some in large, but for the better.

"A team cannot work without character. Character defines how you practice, how you play, how you handle adversity and success. It takes character to deal with all of the daily challenges of being a student and to put those aside to give your best effort on the practice court. It takes character to walk out onto the court on game day and know that you represent thousands of students and alumni from your school. It takes character to endure the physical and mental challenges of a long season."

The Gold Rush presented the NAIA's five core values to approximately 350 students at Joseph A. Craig Charter School in New Orleans during the fall semester.

"I don't think that character is something that we have to talk about as a team on a regular basis because it really just seems to be a part of our program," XU senior guard Gary Smith said. "Our coach has never made basketball the most important thing in our lives. Since I was recruited, he's dealt with me as a person first and an athlete second. So I think that has helped us as a team because we're able to keep things in perspective.

"We all want to win. You don't come to Xavier if you're not thinking about playing for championships. What makes Xavier different and what makes our team so special is how much we care about the next man. We think beyond ourselves. It doesn't matter who scores or who gets the numbers, we're out here trying to win together. There are 31 other teams at this tournament, but we look at ourselves as a family. These are my brothers. That's Xavier character to me."

This is the first time an XU team has won this award.

Ed Cassiere, Sports Information Director

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