- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Northwestern had lost its all-time leading scorer in small forward John Shurna, and there wasn’t a logical replacement on the roster.
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Swopshire, who was a redshirt junior last season, was looking for a new school after he was told there wouldn’t be a spot for him on Louisville’s roster during the 2012-13 season. He was on pace to graduate from Louisville, so he had the chance to take advantage of the NCAA’s post-graduate transfer rule and play somewhere immediately.
Northwestern did its research. Swopshire and his family did their research. It take didn’t long for either to realize they were a match.
“I took a visit here, loved the coaches, loved the players, the system,” Swopshire said prior to Tuesday’s game ACC/Big Ten Challenge game with Maryland. “I’m here.”
From Northwestern’s perspective, the recruitment of Swopshire couldn’t have gone any smoother.
“The way they went about their decision is the way we want everybody we recruit to go about their decision,” said Hardy, who was the lead recruiter on Swopshire. “They looked at the total package. They looked at the academics. They looked at the opportunity to play. They looked at the system. At the end of the day, once they got a chance to know us, and we got a chance to know them, they saw everything fell right into place.”
Six games into the season, Swopshire and Northwestern are sure they both made the right decision. Swopshire has flourished playing in a versatile forward role and is averaging a career-high 12 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 28 minutes.
On Saturday, Swopshire had 15 points and 10 rebounds in Northwestern’s overtime win over Illinois State in the title game of the South Padre Island Invite. He also had 15 points and five rebounds in a win over TCU. He was awarded the tournament MVP.
“I think it’s his versatility,” said Northwestern senior guard Reggie Hearn said why Swopshire has fit so quickly with the team. “Coming in, we knew he’d help us defensively coming from a Big East team, (Rick) Pitino. He knows help defense and all that. Defense, rebounding, that’s what I expected from him. He’s also been a force on the offensive end for us. That’s big.”
Swopshire isn’t the scorer Shurna was, but Northwestern never expected Swopshire to be exactly like Shurna. The Wildcats wanted Swopshire to play Shurna’s position in his own way.
“He’s a versatile player,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “He can make a shot. He can rebound. I just like the calmness he has. There’s a maturity level that I think helps some of these younger guys. They see how he behaves and how he goes about his business. I think that’s real important. Plus, he defends. So, he’s been a great addition for us.”
Swopshire’s maturity comes with being a fifth-year senior, but also dealing with some adversity at Louisville. He was a highly-touted recruit out of IMG Academy in Florida and worked his way into Louisville’s starting lineup by his sophomore year.
But just as Swopshire’s career was taking off, he suffered a groin injury in the offseason prior to his junior season. The injury didn’t heal as Swopshire hoped, and he had surgery on it in January of 2010. He sat out the entire the 2009-10 season and redshirted.
Last season, he returned, but he had a limited role for the Cardinals and averaged 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes. In the NCAA tournament, he scored six points in a win over Michigan State, played 25 minutes in a win over Davidson and saw four minutes in a loss to Kentucky in the Final Four.
Swopshire said he would have returned to Louisville for his final season if there had been a scholarship for him, but he doesn’t have any hard feelings about it.
“None,” Swopshire said. “Love the coaches, love the players, just thankful for the opportunity I had to play there for four years.”
Swopshire is happy at Northwestern, though. He’s clicked with his teammates. He’s enjoyed passing on knowledge to the younger players. Plus, he’s getting a lot of playing time again and has been allowed to play freely.
“It’s been good,” Swopshire said. “I’m doing what I love, just out here playing basketball.”