Drexel junior women's basketball player Nicole Hester (Waldorf, Md./Westlake), who worked her way back onto the court after her battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma last season, has been named the 2008 recipient of the V Foundation Comeback Award. The national award was created to honor the memory of Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator, whose personal battle with cancer inspired the creation of the V Foundation. It is presented annually to a male or female college basketball player who has triumphed in the face of true adversity.
Hester was announced as this year’s recipient on April 1 between games of ESPN2’s coverage of the men’s NIT Final Four. A representative from the V Foundation will officially present Hester with the award on April 23 at Drexel’s Basketball Banquet on the campus of Drexel University.
"The Drexel community is extremely proud of Nicole who has shown that strength of character and human spirit can be an inspiration to all of us to maximize our potential and ability for success," Drexel University President Dr. Constantine Papadakis said.
Hester's return to the court this season gave her team a lift both emotionally and physically. The rising sophomore, who was third on the team in scoring in 2005-06 and earned the team's Defensive MVP award, was forced to withdraw from classes and miss the entire basketball season last year to focus on treating and beating the cancer that was attacking her body. She was given a clean bill of health this past fall and rejoined her team during its exhibition tour of Spain in September.
After the Dragons toiled to a 10-21 record without her last season, Hester's return to full health has resulted in a marked turn around for the team. Drexel finished with an 18-12 record on the season and a 13-5 mark in conference play, the team’s best record as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. Hester’s play led the team during a nine-game winning streak at midseason which was the second longest in the program’s history.
Hester, who was the team's Defensive MVP as a sophomore, picked up where she left off two season’s ago. She finished the year as the Dragons’ most accurate three-point shooter, the team leader in assists, and ranked fourth in scoring and rebounds and third in steals and blocks. She also led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"When Drexel needed someone to come up with a big play, Nicole was often the player who rose to meet the challenge,” Drexel Director of Athletics Dr. Eric Zillmer said. “Nicole used her skills she learned as an athlete, including dedication, discipline, and leadership to pull herself through this crisis with remarkable results. As a result she became stronger and a symbol of what is possible, a poster child for Drexel basketball, outgoing and talented, and a Drexel ambassador for our athletics department."
During the season, Hester’s inspirational story has been chronicled by ESPN.com, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and Philadelphia’s local 6ABC and Comcast television. Hester has also been honored by the Colonial Athletic Association as the recipient of the John H. Randolph Inspiration Award and she will be recognized at the Coaches vs. Cancer BasketBall on April 12.
Hester was chosen from a pool of 14 finalists for the V Foundation Comeback Award as the student-athlete who best embodied Coach Valvano’s “Don’t Give Up. . .Don’t Ever Give Up!” motto, which is the legacy from which the Comeback Award was created. She is the eighth recipient of this award since 2001. Purdue’s Katie Douglas (2001), Western Michigan’s Kristin Koetsier (2002), Arizona State’s Justin Allen (2003), Texas’ Jamie Carey (2004), Washington’s Kayla Burt (2005); Western Washington’s Grant Dykstra (2006) and the United States Military Academy Women’s Basketball Team (2007).
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