While John Swords ’15 and his seven-foot frame have been conspicuously absent from campus since his graduation last spring, his formidable presence has surely raised an eyebrow or two in his new home of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Swords moved to Spain in January to sign with CI Rosalia de Castro, a basketball team in the country’s fourth division. Two games into his international career, he’s averaging seven and a half  points and seven rebounds per game. The Orient caught up with Swords over Skype to hear about his adventures in playing Spanish-style basketball, exploring the local environment and trying to become a published writer.

The Bowdoin Orient: What’s it like playing on a team where you’re the only American?

John Swords: It’s really fun, and it has a lot to do with not taking anything too seriously. I mean, I’m working hard. But on a day-to-day basis I’m asked to play a sport and have people yell around me in a different language. It’s pretty ridiculous.

I took Spanish 101 and 102 at Bowdoin. They’ve served me well, but not as well as if I’d taken more classes—I spent all of high school studying French, which, in retrospect, is not that helpful.

To have an abroad experience where I have teammates is great. It’s why I’ve been playing sports my whole life, because being on a team is great. To be out here in what the Romans considered literally the end of the world—Northwest Spain—but to not feel like I’m totally alone because everyday I get to go hang out with other guys. While I’m the only American, that’s probably for the better. I like that I have to scramble to figure out what’s going on.

BO: What’s the style of basketball like, and how does your play fit in?

JS: The basketball here is so unbelievably scrambled and hectic and run-and-gun compared to what I’m used to. I’ve got a bit of a skewed perspective: Because I’m such a big big man, any team I’ve been on has been all about slowing down and playing settled team offense. But everything here is just run-and-gun. You just bury your head and sprint and hope that you’ll wind up at the basket. People take a lot of what I think are bad shots or make some screwy passes that look like they’d look good on an NBA highlight tape, except they go 15 feet away from the guy they’re supposed to go to.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of NESCAC play when it gets scrambled. But these guys definitely know what they’re doing, so even if it feels more scrambled, it’s just a faster game. It’s a 24-second shot clock. You have to move faster and guys take a lot of shots. There’s not the same appreciation for help defense here—or at least I haven’t found it yet. And the biggest adjustment for me is I’m not a foot-and-a-half taller than everyone I’m playing against now. I’m not used to getting pushed off the block but I am here sometimes, so that’s an interesting thing to try to adjust to.

BO: Are there any skills you’re looking to add to your game?

JS: Yeah, they want me to shoot more. I’ve never had a coach that said “Hey, you got the ball? Shoot it!” My whole career, especially at Bowdoin, we had guys who would shoot for me. So my job was to lock down low, wrestle the other guy and work in the paint. I’m still supposed to do that here, but I need to have that plus an ability to shoot from mid-range because some of these guys put up a lot more of a fight inside.

BO: Do you have a lot of free time? If so, how do you spend it?

JS: I have a lot free time, which was kind of the plan when I came over here. I decided at the end of last year that I had such a good time playing at Bowdoin that it would be really fun to see if I could do it again over here, but that was only one of several reasons for wanting to come. Probably the strongest one is just wanting to be abroad because I didn’t go abroad when I was at Bowdoin. Another reason is I wanted to try my luck at being a writer before I try my hand at whatever comes next. I have the time, I have an interesting setting and I have a few stories. They eat a lot of octopus here, and I’m going to go and try to find the guys who hunt it. Apparently they put on snorkel gear, go into underwater caves and hunt octopuses with long poles. I feel like that would be a good story to write about.

On top of that, I spent a lot of time at Bowdoin with the Outing Club, so I just try to get on top of things around here. I go out into the city and look for a peak off in the distance and start walking to it until I get on top.

BO: Are there any standout anecdotes from your time in Spain?

JS: I cannot express enough how confused I am about how late the Spanish stay up. They don’t really start their day until 11:00 and they definitely don’t stop their day until at least 11:30. When it’s a night to go out on the town, these university kids party until 8:00 in the morning. I tagged along with my teammates once and I looked at my watch like “What are we doing, guys? It’s 5:30 a.m.” I stayed up late while I was in college doing work or socializing, but never that late. I think 1:00 is a very respectable hour to call it quits on the weekend. Here, they’re like “You’re going to bed at 5:00? Why are you being a spoilsport?”

This interview has been edited 
for brevity.