Diebold: Get well soon, Swop

Diebold: Get well soon, Swop

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

Talk to me tomorrow.

Tomorrow we can discuss what graduate student forward Jared Swopshire’s knee injury means for the rest of this ill-fated season of Northwestern basketball. Tomorrow we can discuss whether embattled coach Bill Carmody deserves another year (with, possibly, a healthy Drew Crawford rejoining a team stacked by NU standards) to finally get this team over the hump and into your office bracket. Tomorrow we can discuss whether the Cats without Swopshire and Alex Olah will be able to rebound better or worse than a group of five actual wildcats — my money’s on the felines.

Today, let’s talk about Swop.

He left a Final Four team for a chance to take a leading role at lowly NU. It’s the kind of decision curmudgeon sportswriters grumble about as they decry the selfishness that has ruined basketball and recall a bygone era when players sacrificed minutes for championships. But how many of us can honestly say we would have chosen differently? Nobody likes sitting on the bench (Swopshire averaged 3.3 points per game last season at Louisville), and the chance to get NU into March Madness should appeal to anyone with the requisite competitiveness to play college sports. Oh, and Swopshire enrolled in NU’s graduate school, which I hear does OK by its students.

Most importantly, Swopshire played hard. Sure, sometimes he deferred on offense more than we would have liked, but how relieving it was to see a Wildcat crashing the boards after years of John Shurna’s 195-pound-soaking-wet frame and Luka Mirkovic being Luka Mirkovic in the middle of the 1-3-1. Swopshire set a Carmody-era record with 16 boards against Nebraska, and his 6.7 rebound per game average is the best by a Cat since 1999. And when, at times this season, he was able to add awkwardly graceful drives and a deft shooting touch, he brought Welsh-Ryan to its feet.

When I learned Tuesday that Swopshire underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, this Oregonian couldn’t help but think of former Portland Trail Blazers, who nearly single-handedly saved basketball in Portland and led the Blazers to their best seasons of my lifetime (yes, I was born immediately after we blew Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, why do you ask?).

B-Roy gave Portland everything he had and then some. In 2010, eight days after having surgery on a torn meniscus, he came back, helping the Blazers to a win in Game 4 of a first-round series. Reinvigorated, they promptly lost the next two — and the series. But that was Brandon. We thought he was going to retire a Blazer and go into the Hall of Fame a Blazer. A year later, he was forced into medical retirement by two knees that betrayed his otherworldly talent. Roy shares with Swopshire a work ethic, solid character and most importantly a deep passion for awkward goatees.

Sports fans like to get overeager about new toys. When Kyle Prater transferred to NU, fans spent the summer salivating over what Prater would do for the Cats’ receiving corps, only to fall back to earth when Prater demonstrated a particular knack for holding penalties and disappeared into a deep group of wideouts. Prater’s performance was perfectly understandable, given that he hadn’t played a competitive game of football in two years, it just wasn’t what we hoped for from an athletic specimen who happened to be a former five-star recruit.

But Swop went above and beyond any hopes fans could have had of a little-used forward from Louisville.

In all likelihood, Jared Swopshire won’t ever play in the NBA. 6-foot-8 tweener forwards who can shoot a little and rebound a little are a dime a dozen, and most of them aren’t recovering from knee surgery. Maybe there will be a spot for him in Europe, but maybe the graduate student’s basketball career is over.

If that was it, Swop, it sure was fun while it lasted.