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July 25, 2012It is not often that you will hear an athlete preaching the benefits of tearing a groin.
But in Jared Swopshire's case, the newly transferred graduate student recognizes that he would not be where he is today, with the opportunity to send Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament, were it not for that injury.
"I'm glad I'm here, and, ultimately, my injury, I grew a lot from it. So I'm glad it happened," said Swopshire, who tore his adductor longus muscle after his sophomore season at Louisville.
The sunny optimism with which Swopshire views his injury has seemingly spread throughout the program.
Last season was seen by many observers as Northwestern's best chance at reaching the Big Dance. The impending departure of senior and Big Ten-leading scorer John Shurna created a sense of urgency never before seen at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Although the team once again fell short of its goal, the addition of the 6-foot-8 Swopshire and big men Nikola Cerina and Alex Olah not only softened the blow of a fourth consecutive NIT exit, it rekindled the hopes of at last ending Northwestern's reign as the only Big Six conference school never to have made the NCAA Tournament.
Swopshire played two seasons at Louisville before sitting out the 2010-11 season on a medical redshirt. He earned his degree from U of L in the spring, enabling him to play right away as a fifth-year graduate student at Northwestern.
Swopshire's minutes were cut in half last season, when he averaged just 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game. The lanky forward proved himself to be an effective player with a good understanding of the game when he was used, however, which is something that caught NU coach Bill Carmody's eye.
In fact, injuries forced Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to play Swopshire at center for spurts during last season, in much the same way that Northwestern did with Shurna. Carmody insisted, though, that Swopshire would not be needed to play the pivot as a Wildcat -- and he also distanced his new frontcourt option from any Shurna comparisons.
"He's not going to play the 5 here," Carmody said. "I don't even think about he and Shurna as the same thing at all. Their different players -- both good players.
"Now we have a center that has size down there and is aggressive down there. We can do something and that's important. So it changes everything."
With the addition of big men Cerina and Olah, Swopshire may not need to bring as much of his post game, but he certainly will bring to the team the belief that the incredible can happen.
Swopshire experienced that first-hand with his Louisville team's run to the Final Four last season. After starting the season 12-0, the Cardinals stumbled through a 10-9 record through the remainder of the regular season in the highly competitive Big East, including dropping three of their last four games.
But the seventh-seeded Cardinals went on an improbable run through the Big East Tournament, winning four games in four days to win the tournament championship. That earned them a fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated one-seed Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen and then Florida after trailing by 11 with 8:16 left.
"Those guys on that court, everybody in that locker room, we believed that we could do it," Swopshire said. "We've come back throughout the season from so many deficits. We never lost hope."
Northwestern is not yet at the point where they can be thinking about Final Four runs. They, of course, need to hear their name on Selection Sunday first.
Swopshire, though, believes his new team is more than capable of accomplishing a tourney berth, although they will have to do it with a different style than his previous team was accustomed to.
"Guys compete a lot here," he said. "Athletically, it may not be as high up as a lot of other schools, but guys compete. Guys really have a good feel for the game and I think that's what is going to separate us."
For a guy who averaged only 13 minutes per game last season, Swopshire's arrival came with some heavy expectations from a Northwestern fan base yearning to get off the shneid. Yet despite so much riding on his only season as a Wildcat, Swopshire diffused the notion that his final collegiate season will be pressure-packed.
"There's no pressure because I'm just out here playing basketball. This is what I do," he said.
"I just want to win and help this team win. Whatever I can do. I don't need my name in the lights. It's not about that for me. I just want to win and enjoy what I'm doing."