John Swords ’15 set the bar high after his strong play in the Regis College Tip-Off Tournament, averaging 14.5 points per game and 11 rebounds in two games. His effort was enough to win the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
The seven-foot center created mismatches for the opposing teams, neither of whom had a player of comparable size. While NESCAC opponents are more likely to have players who can defend Swords, he is still the tallest player in the conference.
Swords started playing basketball in elementary school but gave it up to play hockey, following the lead of his two brothers. After ninth grade, he stopped playing and resumed basketball because he questioned his skating ability. Even at that time he was almost seven feet tall, including skates. Swords started working on improving his basketball skills, practicing with his best friend over the summer. He played very little during his first year with the team, but saw more time as a high school junior, and earned a captainship as a senior.
Swords is the third child in his family to attend Bowdoin. Both of his brothers played lacrosse for the College, and John had wanted to attend even before he switched from hockey back to playing basketball.
“It seemed like a pretty natural thing for me to do,” he said. “My three older siblings had played in college."
His older sister played basketball at Boston College, captaining the team her junior and senior years. She now plays in the WNBA for the Chicago Sky.
Once getting to Bowdoin, he played sparingly during his first two seasons—around 14 minutes a game over the two years—but has averaged 25 minutes so far this season. Head Coach Tim Gilbride expects him to see between 25 and 30 minutes each night if he keep his fouls down. Against Regis, Swords tallied 18 points and nine rebounds in only 19 minutes.
Though his height gives him some advantage against opponents, his late start compared to his teammates meant that he still had some learning to do when he arrived at Bowdoin.
“He didn’t know common offenses, common defenses, terminology, the subtleties of how to show and give help, etc.,” Gilbride said. “A lot of these things you get through practice over the years.”
Now his presence forces teams to change their strategies by going to shorter lineups or foregoing shots in the paint. His agility and speed help his on-ball defense as well.
“He works to stay in front of his guy,” Gilbride said, “He has quick feet. That can be just as effective as blocking a shot. It makes them miss.”
“It affects everything. [Last weekend], we played two teams that really like to drive to the hoop,” captain Matt Mathias ’14 said. “He took them out of their offense.”
On offense, he can extend plays with his strong offensive rebounding and provide reliable points in the post.
“He’s gotten more patient and makes sure he gets in position on the low block,” Mathias said. “We don’t want him 10 or 15 feet from the hoop, but if he gets close to four or five, he’ll score more often than not.”
For Swords, the team aspect of the game has been the most rewarding part.
“I’m not a senior yet, but I get to take on more of a leadership role [this year],” he said. “I’m going from being mentored by Max Staiger last year to finding some young’ins of my own.”
“What really makes it worthwhile for me is that my teammates are awesome guys. I’m sure they’ll get a laugh reading that,” he added.
Despite his commitment, basketball is not the dominant part of Swords’ life. He has also been actively whitewater rafting, surfing, and backpacking with the Bowdoin Outing Club since his Orientation trip experience. He loves the outdoors, he said, even though he had camped for his first time only a week before his trip.
“It’s been amazing—serendipitous maybe—that I’ve found this,” he said. “In fact, most of the things I love about Bowdoin are things that I discovered after I got here.”
He is a government and legal studies major with a concentration in international relations, and he dabbles with the banjo, saxophone and guitar, although the latter he considers to be only of “campfire quality.”
The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.