Humor, upbeat personality have been best medicine for Gonzaga senior Killian Tillie
Sat., Feb. 29, 2020
Upon returning with 22 points against San Francisco after a setback with his ankle a few weeks ago: “That’s, like, my 10th comeback. Yeah, I might lead (the NCAA) in those.”
On if he’s on a first-name basis with area doctors: “Obviously, I know every single doctor. And you can ask me, I know all their specialties.”
On how much he’s learned about the anatomy of the human body: “I could definitely be a trainer after all this, 100 percent.”
Gonzaga will celebrate Tillie’s unique career, as well as the prominent one-year contributions of grad transfers Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge, during Senior Night festivities following Saturday’s showdown with Saint Mary’s.
It’s a senior sendoff that few, including Tillie, thought would happen. The 6-foot-10 Frenchman likely would have turned pro after his sophomore season, but he suffered a hip injury that sidelined him in the Sweet 16 against Florida State.
Tillie tested the waters after his junior year but was derailed by a sprained ankle in his first NBA workout.
“When I first came I expected to do four years because I didn’t know I was good,” said Tillie, who is averaging 13.6 points and 5.0 rebounds this season. “After a few years, my goal was to leave early so it’s a surprise, but it’s good, too. I’m excited I have a chance to say goodbye to all the fans.”
Tillie has a serious side, and it’s teamed up with his positive outlook and witty personality to keep bringing him back from the injury list. He’s played in 105 of 143 possible career games, but he’s been limited to 36 of 67 contests the past two seasons.
He’s been impressive in his first game back from injuries this season, including two 22-point efforts and games with 15 and 19 points.
“Adversity makes me hungrier,” Tillie said. “Everything is harder, but that shows my character and just makes me stronger and hungrier. Every time I’m on the court I’m always enjoying the moment because I didn’t have a lot of moments.”
Injuries have robbed him of additional opportunities, but he’s always produced when he suited up.
Tillie made two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to seal GU’s 77-73 win over South Carolina at the Final Four. He had nine rebounds in 14 minutes in the title game against North Carolina.
Tillie put on a show at the 2018 WCC Tournament, drilling 13 of 14 3-pointers and averaging 24 points to earn MVP honors. He buried 5 of 6 3s against Fairleigh Dickinson in the 2019 NCAA Tournament opener.
Tillie was one of the few bright spots with 20 points in a loss to Michigan in the Bahamas in November. His 3-pointer from 29 feet in the closing minutes helped the Zags hold off Washington in December.
“Fondly and with just great respect,” said head coach Mark Few, when asked how he’ll remember Tillie. “Everything he’s been through, how he’s always come back from all these setbacks, and just what a gifted player he is and what a fun guy he is. Just how many big shots and plays he made over the years. Amazing.”
If Tillie’s durability has raised scouts’ eyebrows regarding his professional career, his size, skill and shooting ability have certainly caught the eye of talent evaluators.
Tillie can’t remember the last time he was truly healthy on the court.
“My whole life has been like that,” said Tillie, before pausing. “When I was 5 or 6, I was healthy.”
He’s ready for the next step in his career, but thankful for an opportunity to write an appropriate final chapter with the Zags.
“It’s crazy that it went by pretty fast,” said Tillie, surveying the locker room. “I can’t believe it. I’m kind of excited to leave, but I’m sad to leave these people here.”
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