November 8, 2010

Andrew Darko ready for a key role

Everyone who knows describes him as intelligent, determined and diligent.

When you first meet Andrew Darko, his quiet demeanor is evident. However, when you sit down and hear the senior from Conroe speak, he exudes a certain aura of confidence and pride.

An aura earned from years of hard-work and built on toughness and perseverance.

Darko embarked on A&M as a walk-on after being recruited by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Centenary. For three years, his role was as the leader of the scout team - the guy behind the scenes that kept the high-speed engine that is Aggie basketball full-speed ahead towards consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

"Last year, when Darko got tired, we'd have to stop practice because he couldn't go out because he was that important to us in practice," said Head Coach Mark Turgeon.

With the departure of guards Donald Sloan and Derrick Roland, Darko will now be relied on more heavily in game-play than in practice play.

"It's going to be a lot different than last year," Darko said. "In the last couple years, I've been more a contributor in practice. This year, I'll be looked to contribute in games. With it, I'm going to play a lot of defense. There's not a lot of press offensively for me and I just want to take care of the ball and run the team when I'm in."

As one of the few seniors on this youthful squad, Darko said that he has embraced the leadership role that comes with experience. It's a facet of his game that he has drastically improved.

"I think my leadership skills are improved. Now, with my role, I'm looked to as a senior and looked to fill that leadership role," Darko added. "I don't have a problem with it. One thing I can use is that I've worked hard and earned the respect I have."

Though many think of Darko as the backup point guard, Turgeon has tried him at the off-guard position. With Darko in that role, Turgeon loves the connection he and B.J. Holmes have with eachother.

"We have confidence in Darko at both positions," Turgeon said. "He's probably more comfortable at the point because he's played more. But he's getting used at the two. When he and BJ are together, they're interchangeable and feed off eachother."

Turgeon's confidence in Darko stretches past the court. He thinks the world of the former walk-on and, because of his hard work, rewarded him with a scholarship this past offseason. For Darko, it couldn't have come at a better time.

"It was big for me," Darko said with a chuckle, "because funny thing is it happened right when the deadline was to pull fees and I had just pulled out a loan, and just walked out of the financial aid office and Coach Turgeon called me and was like 'we'd like to put you on scholarship this year.' It was such a relief and it was a long time coming."

Though No. 14 isn't the most imposing physical presence, that aura is unmistakable. Much like his coach, his poise and stoicism is palpable. And after three years of dedication the program, his coach is hoping Darko has a senior season to remember.

"I've felt great about Darko since he's been here," Turgeon said. "He's really earned it. He's worked hard, takes care of his academics. He's always had players' respect. I hope he has a special year because he deserves it."

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