Trahan: Swopshire gives Northwestern new hope

Kevin Trahan

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – at least that’s how the saying goes – and that sentiment held true for Northwestern basketball on Thursday, as the Wildcats reportedly picked up Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, who will play his final season of eligibility in Evanston starting next November.

But the word “trash” would be misleading, because Swopshire is good, as in “start for a top-tier Big East team as a sophomore” good. And had he not been derailed by injury his junior season, Swopshire could still be in Louisville next year instead of Evanston.

However, had he stayed he would not have been a starter. He gave way to ultra-talented freshman Chane Behanan this season and was just a role player off the bench. Louisville coach Rick Pitino encouraged Swopshire to leave, saying he’s rather see the forward “play 32 minutes somewhere else than 10 minutes here.”

So in a career full of ups and downs, Swopshire will end his time as a college basketball player in Evanston. It’s a big opportunity for Swopshire – he’ll likely start as a senior – but it’s an even bigger opportunity for an NU program that otherwise could have been stuck in neutral next season.

Now, the program may finally be able to take the next step.

It’s easy to overestimate the impact a transfer will have on a program, especially for programs as desperate as NU, and it’s not like Louisville is sending stars Gorgui Dieng or Behanan to Evanston, either.

However, just on the surface, this looks like a perfect fit. Swopshire has yet to put up overwhelming statistics – a lot of that is likely due to his injury – but he has great potential and fills a void in the lineup.

“He’s replacing (John) Shurna,” Swopshire’s dad told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “so that’s the style he’s going for from an offensive and playing style standpoint.”

Replacing Shurna from a points-total standpoint will be a tall task, but NU has enough solid players to replace him on the aggregate and the potential to have a much better frontcourt than last season, when rebounding and points in the paint were issues all year.

And unlike last year, depth, especially in the frontcourt, won’t be a problem.

In addition to Swopshire, a six-foot, eight-inch forward, NU’s frontcourt adds Nikola Cerina, a six-foot, nine-inch TCU transfer who sat out last season and Bill Carmody called “the best athlete on the team.” The Cats may have finally found a true center, as well, as six-foot, 11-inch recruit Alex Olah may see early playing time. In addition to the newcomers, Drew Crawford has a chance to build on a very productive junior season.

The backcourt should be solid, as sophomore Dave Sobolewski, senior Reggie Hearn and senior Alex Marcotullio will provide stability, while junior JerShon Cobb looks poised for a breakout year after finishing 2012 strong coming off injuries. NU also has two capable recruits coming in to help the backcourt in Sanjay Lumpkin and Kale Abrahamson.

This team looks nothing like the team that played only six players in a game at times this season – it’s deep and it’s talented.

Had Swopshire not come to NU, the Cats likely would have endured growing pains with another mediocre frontcourt, especially with Olah trying to adjust to the college game. Now, NU has the personnel to allow Olah to adjust slowly – a luxury the Cats have not been able to enjoy in recent seasons.

Top to bottom, this may be the most talented and deepest team of the Carmody era. Not bad for a team supposedly coming off its best season ever.

There’s no guarantee Swopshire will be as successful as NU hopes. Plenty of players never reach their potential and there is always the chance for injury. However, his talent is undeniable, and for a player who was “on the cusp” as a sophomore, there would be no better time to break out than now – no better time for Swopshire as he enters his final season, and no better time for NU in what figures to be a very difficult Big Ten.

This is big for Swopshire. This is big for NU. This could be the perfect fit, one that finally pushes the Cats over the top.