CONTROL BASKETBALL GUIDE 2021
2 basketball guide 2021
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4 basketball guide 2021
PATH By Roshan Fernandez
senior staff writer
n the first floor of the Boeheim’s house, two brothers screamed, cried and fell on top of Jamie Boeheim as she tried to play with her Polly Pocket dolls. The cause of the playroom chaos less than two decades ago was a 1-on-1 basketball game between Jamie’s twin, Buddy Boeheim, and her older brother, Jimmy Boeheim, on the family’s plastic Little Tikes hoop. Their mom, Juli Boeheim, urged Jimmy to let his younger brother win occasionally. Jimmy never did. Their matchups grew more intense around middle school. Jimmy bent the rules by calling fouls or extending games when he was losing, Jamie said. Controversy brewed regularly, so their dad, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, refereed. But when the two played on the same team at Jamesville-DeWitt High School for a season and a half, that dynamic changed. The siblings’ arguments stayed at home, rarely making their way into J-D’s practices or games. Their 1-on-1 battles became sparse, and they have remained that way ever since, even as the two reunite — playing for their dad — at Syracuse this season. Part of it has to do with avoiding fights and “bad blood” since they’re teammates now, Buddy said. But it also has to do with the maturing they did as individual players while they were apart for the past five years. Their paths to SU were very different since they “were never destined to play together early,” Boeheim said. But along those paths, they discovered how to handle the weight of the Boeheim name, and how to simultaneously build their own names. “They’re adults,” Jamie said. “They used to play 1-on-1 more for fun, and now it’s like, ‘We don’t need to play 1-on-1 to know who’s better — we’re both our own selves.’” Both brothers speak fondly of the last time they played together during the 2015-16 season at J-D since they didn’t expect to play side-by-side again after high school. But after Jimmy graduated that year, the space helped both brothers grow at their own pace. Buddy was the newcomer on Jimmy’s team, former teammates said. Now at SU, that role has flipped after Jimmy used his extra COVID-19 eligibility to transfer from Cornell into a team centered around his younger brother, who became a national phenomenon last March. With the benefit of that space, this time around — with Jimmy and Buddy as teammates once more — will be different.
“They established themselves individually and grew stronger in their own ways,” Juli said. “They made a name for themselves, even though the Boeheim thing is always going to follow them.” Juli never had to explain to the kids what their dad’s fame meant and how they should act because of it. She said the family’s trip to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was reassurance that she and Boeheim didn’t need to have an explicit conversation about it. Boeheim was Team USA’s assistant coach, and that meant Buddy, Jimmy and Jamie spent time alongside players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Juli initially wasn’t sure what’d happen when the kids went back to school after spending the summer with famous athletes, but when Buddy’s third grade teacher asked the class to draw their favorite summer memory, Buddy didn’t draw images of James or Bryant. Instead, he drew Olympic rings alongside Burger King, Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen since he was fascinated that those American chains were also in Beijing, Juli said. Jimmy’s teacher said the then-fifth grader rarely talked about the Olympics trip, too. Juli was thrilled — even at that age, her kids understood the importance of individuality amid the weight of their last name, she said. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, that’s Boeheim’s kid,’ and you get a little target on your back, but I don’t think they really see any target on their back,” Juli said. “(Their dad’s) a great guy who happens to be an exceptional coach. And Buddy is a great kid who happens to be a good shooter.” But Buddy said, when he was in high school, he wasn’t the developed shooter and player he is now. He started on junior varsity during his freshman year before getting pulled up to varsity midseason. Jimmy, a junior at the time, was excited to officially play alongside his younger brother for the first time, then-head coach Bob McKenney said, but the expectations about roles were clear. “Buddy was still coming into his own,” said Terrence Echols, a J-D teammate. “Jimmy was definitely the leader.” Some teammates and friends said Buddy was labeled “Jimmy’s little brother” early on, though others disagreed. Jimmy was the top scorer and best player and naturally drew more attention, said Kasey Vaughan, one of Buddy’s best friends. Buddy, while talented, was a secondary option, said Echols. During that partial season in 2014-15 and the following full season, the two often didn’t act like brothers on the court. The heated arguments from playing basketball at home didn’t spill over often because they “flipped that switch as good as anybody,” said Jeff Ike, who coached them in 2015-
FIVE YEARS AFTER LAST PLAYING TOGETHER AT JAMESVILLEDEWITT HIGH SCHOOL, JIMMY AND BUDDY BOEHEIM HAVE REUNITED TO PLAY UNDER THEIR DAD AT SYRACUSE
16. They’d try to one-up the other, but it was in a healthy, competitive manner, teammates said. “Jimmy was the big brother,” Ike said. “If Buddy made a crucial 3 or made a block on defense … you could tell Jimmy was super proud.” There were brief flashes of dispute, though. Echols recalled moments where Jimmy would shoot and Buddy would give him a look, asking for a pass so he could shoot the next time. Matt Carlin, a teammate in Buddy’s grade, said there was some tension because “more often than not, Jimmy had his way.” Carlin recalled times where Buddy “would deal with it by not listening (to Jimmy) and just chucking up a shot.” Regardless, both Jimmy and Buddy said that they loved playing together in high school. Their chemistry was impeccable because they knew the other’s game inside-out, Ike said. They knew when the other would get hot and where the other was on the court at all times. When an urgent basket was needed, Buddy could find Jimmy and vice-versa, Vaughan said. When Jimmy graduated and went to New Hampton (New Hampshire) School, Buddy became the team’s focal point, teammates said. Buddy showed a lot of growth after Jimmy graduated, partially because that was part of his trajectory and “growing up,” said Darvin Lovette, a former J-D teammate. Buddy filled the shooting void left by Jimmy’s departure, taking the reins from his older brother, said teammate Ronald Lewis III. It became Buddy’s team. “He was just more comfortable,” Carlin said. “Once Jimmy left, Buddy was just doing his thing.” Jimmy had always stayed “at level” compared to those his age but Buddy had more natural talent, McKenney said. The fact that the two only played together for a brief stint during high school was probably good, McKenney said, because it allowed both to develop at their own pace. Buddy followed Jimmy’s lead by attending prep school. Being in Jimmy’s shadow and then taking over the J-D team was hard for Buddy, Jamie said, and Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) offered Buddy a chance to be in his “own world.” It was at this point when their dad started saying that Buddy was good enough to come to Syracuse, something Jimmy “wasn’t even close to” at that age, Jamie said. Brewster gave Buddy confidence that he was more than his last name and more than a coach’s son once Syracuse began to show interest in recruiting him. “It made people realize how legit he is,” Carlin said. That year of prep school, in particular,
helped both brothers cope with the expectations associated with being a Boeheim. The expectations are why Jamie attends the University of Rochester and didn’t even apply to SU. It’s also why Jamie noticed so much growth from Buddy at Brewster, a time that she said he “just disappeared.” “It was really a chance for (Buddy) to disconnect from that weight he had on his shoulder to show everyone that he could still do what Jimmy did,” Jamie said. “For him, just getting away from … J-D was definitely the best thing that could have happened for him.” Jamie joked that Buddy returned home five feet taller and 50 pounds heavier. He was capable of scoring 25 points per game in high school, Echols said, but Brewster boosted him to a different level. He got quicker and stronger, improved his defense and sped up his shot release, Carlin said. Jimmy made similar strides during the pandemic, working out daily to stay in shape while he was in the transfer portal, Jamie said. And when Jimmy, a forward, eventually chose Syracuse, it was after talking with numerous schools and determining SU was the right situation for him, Jimmy said. He didn’t decide for certain until forward Marek Dolezaj announced he wasn’t returning. Now at Syracuse, with the brothers reunited as teammates, Jimmy has adjusted to his new team well, Boeheim has said repeatedly. Buddy and Jimmy’s chemistry is growing every day, both brothers said. Carlin said he wonders how the dynamic will function now that Buddy is the more storied player. Jamie said things like that remain unspoken — there’s a sense of respect between them now, which wasn’t present in high school because neither knew the other would be this good. Jimmy said he’s not too proud to learn from his younger brother at SU, and Buddy said that he’s probably harder on Jimmy than he is on any other teammate. “It’s all out of love,” Buddy said. Buddy has always admired his brother, Juli said, and Buddy might even feel an unconscious sense of relief that his big brother is playing with him. And this time around, they’re both ready. “Them taking different paths to prep school and college was a great decision by both,” Lovette said. “But coming back was also like, ‘Once we proved ourselves, what kind of caliber players we are, us playing together would benefit not only ourselves, but also the city of Syracuse, to play under (our) father.’” email@example.com @roshan_f16
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BACK By Anish Vasudevan asst. sports editor
eisha Hyman needed a minute. Fifteen seconds is what she usually allowed herself to catch her breath any time she hit the hardwood floor, but she was down for longer, not able to get onto her feet after the referee blew their whistle to stop play. Hyman walked onto the court despite some soreness in her left knee during warmups, needing just one basket to hit the 2,000-point mark on her mom’s birthday. But when Hyman prepared for the mark-tying shot three minutes into the game, her knees buckled and her ACL tore. “I knew something was wrong,” Hyman said. “I jump-stopped and both of my legs just got stuck.” Almost two years later at Syracuse, Hyman felt the same pain, the same feeling against NC State — this time she could tell the severity, an ACL tear on her other knee, before she even hit the floor. Hyman said that her most recent injury has been more of a “mental journey” than a physical one. After two knee injuries, Hyman doesn’t want to be just a force on the court, but a “voice” on a team that is only returning three players from last season. After tearing her left ACL in 2018, Hyman thought her basketball career could potentially be over. To improve her physical health, she immediately went into rehab for a month and a half before her surgery, getting cleared to fully play six months after. But the physical toll was nothing compared to the mental one, Hyman said. Woodlands High School (New York) Athletic Director Michael McCoy said the yearlong process was a “strain” on Hyman, yet she still continued her pursuit for a Division I basketball career — a dream she’s held since sixth grade. “As a teenager, you don’t think about the big picture, but she did,” McCoy said. “She knew she had a future coming.” But Hyman said her motivation took a hit during the rehab process since she was unable to help the team that she was a leading contributor on. She lost her “drive,” something she
still feels after sustaining her injury at SU. “My drive is just different,” Hyman said. “I don’t have the same determination as I used to because sometimes I just get tired of hurting and (I) call it a day.” Craig Cypher, a clinical and sport psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said research shows athletes face two main hurdles when returning from major injuries: the start of the rehab process after the initial impact of the injury and the preparation for returning to play. The latter entails the mental process, which Cypher said makes some athletes like Hyman scared about the lasting effects of the injury. “Athletes face anxiety about returning,” Cypher said. “Can they trust that they are healed? Have they prepared their body through rehab and workouts? Are they ready for the high impact of their sport: cutting, moving, contact?” Sports are an outlet for stress in multiple ways for athletes, giving them physical, social and creative means to express themselves, Cypher said. Without sports during the rehab process, athletes have to find other “engaging activities” to take up their time — like Hyman’s adoration for video games. “A key challenge is developing other positive and prosocial outlets that can be engaging and give them meaning as they work through the loss of not having their sport,” Cypher said. Hyman said her mother, Angela, was a big asset throughout her entire “mental journey.” Angela would check in to see how Hyman was doing, making her talk about what was bothering her and keeping her mind on positivity. She spent a year off the court doing homework and hanging out with her teammates, cycling through video games with other friends playing Call of Duty: Warzone, Minecraft and NBA 2K — only the game mode MyPlayer to work on an individual character’s abilities. She finished rehab right before the season, ready to go back out on the court in the opening game with another chance at the 2,000-point record. McCoy said he extended the possibility for Hyman to sit out the first few games at an away tournament in order to pass the achievement in front of her family and friends, but she declined. Hyman wanted to get back on the court with her teammates as fast as possible, and she had an exact idea of how she was going to reach the historic landmark.“I asked what
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TEISHA HYMAN RETURNS TO THE COURT THIS SEASON AFTER SUFFERING TWO ACL TEARS THAT PUT HER BASKETBALL CAREER IN JEOPARDY
her dream scenario was,” McCoy said. “She said, ‘I’m going to get the opening tip and hit a 3 right inside of half court.’” Right after the tipoff, in the first game of the season, Hyman did exactly that. Less than a year after she tore her left ACL, Hyman scored the opening 3 of the game, adding on another 27 points to not just pass the 2,000-point mark, but break Woodlands’ all-time scoring record. Hyman brought that quick shooting ability to SU, working herself into the starting rotation during her freshman season — she started once against Boston College. Toward the end of the season against NC State, she hit another 3 in the first half, then took the opportunity to drive to the basket in the second half. But she extended too far with her right leg. Her right knee brushed the defender in front of her, in the process eliminating any balance Hyman had. “Before I hit the floor, I knew,” Hyman said. Hyman was sidelined for the remainder of the year with another ACL tear, this time in her right knee, after leading all Syracuse freshmen in scoring throughout the 2019-20 season. She wouldn’t play in the following season either, as former head coach Quentin Hillsman decided not to play Hyman so she could properly finish her rehab. Cypher describes the injury process to athletes as “pulling back their armor,” and a second injury being an arrow that hits after the shield has already been stripped away. He said that the “internal emotional resources” for those athletes get depleted during the second injury, causing it to have a more significant impact. “The athlete knows what the process will entail, but it can come with even more anxiety, sadness and loss when going through a second disappointing and disheartening injury,” Cypher said. Hyman struggled with the mental effect of her second injury, having to go through rehab in central New York. She said it was a “different” process compared to high school. For Hyman, video games provided all the entertainment she needed to get through another year of rehab. Even though she’s fully recovered now, Hyman said that she still feels the repercussions from her injury, a trend Cypher said is extremely common. During practices this offseason, she needed to take some reps off or simply sit down to rest her knees. “Nothing happens, it just hurts,” Hyman said. “It’s just very inconsistent, day-by-day.” When her knees allow her to reach full speed, Hyman has been able to return to the “quiet assassin” she prides herself on being. But she’s also added some “talk” to her game in order to hype her teammates up during scrimmages and drills in practice, calling herself the “starter” of the entire team’s energy. Hyman also gets into it with Eboni Walker, a transfer from Arizona State University. Hyman’s trash talk doesn’t just help teammates like Walker better their abilities, it specifically “hypes (herself) up,” eliminating the waning confidence she’s had because of her two injuries. “I want to be healthy and play, that’s every athlete,” Hyman said. “I just had to be patient and let life take its course.” @anish_vasu firstname.lastname@example.org
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VETERAN PRES MEN’S BASKETBALL
Shooting an average of 44.2% from the field, Syracuse brings in three perimeter players who have proven they can score at the Division I level
Jim Boeheim is the longesttenured coach in the ACC and NCAA, outlasting Mike Krzyzewski at Duke
The Syracuse men’s basketball coaching staff has over 90 collective years of experience coaching at SU. All members have been a part of the staff for at least four seasons
1 year of experience: 18% 2 years of experience: 35% 3 years of experience: 6% 4 years of experience: 6%
Three players transferred to Syracuse from Division I programs, two of them coming from the Big East conference
BACK TO BASICS ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 11-9 MVP: BUDDY BOEHEIM X-FACTOR: JESSE EDWARDS
A lot could go right for Syracuse this season, with the number of 3-point shooters it has and how they could all string together makes at once. But there’s also a scenario where this veteran group doesn’t work, where Buddy Boeheim doesn’t score at the same rate, and SU finishes around the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Over 63% of Syracuse’s scoring from last year departed, or essentially all the points but Buddy’s, Girard’s and the 45 that its four true centers (Bourama Sidibe, Jesse Edwards, Frank Anselem, John Bol Ajak) accumulated. Look for the offense to ebb and flow with Buddy’s offensive output, but development at center will be key, as will the emergence of Cole Swider. Syracuse will miss Kadary Richmond’s zone presence and ability to drive downhill a lot, but the Orange could end up as a second-weekend team — especially if the 3-pointers start falling and the 2-3 zone works its March magic like last year.
EXPERIENCE COUNTS ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 12-8 MVP: BUDDY BOEHEIM X-FACTOR: COLE SWIDER
Syracuse’s run to the Sweet 16 at the end of last season was a product of the Orange’s late-season hot streak. Granted, SU earned every bit of praise it deserved with that elevated level of play in March, but the bottom line is simple — a Sweet 16 appearance was an overachievement from SU’s 2020-21 team. This season, with experienced transfers in Cole Swider and Jimmy Boeheim, and the addition of freshman Benny Williams, SU has the potential to return to the Sweet 16 without the hot streak. They can make it that far purely because they have the experience. This team doesn’t need Buddy Boeheim to play like the Buddy Boeheim of last March every single game, because it has so many other viable scoring options. SU has the pieces of a very strong team, so the questions will just be about how the Orange put it all together.
BUILD BACK BETTER ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 13-7 MVP: BUDDY BOEHEIM X-FACTOR: BENNY WILLIAMS
After making it to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed, this Syracuse team has the potential to go beyond the first weekend again. An Elite Eight run is within reach, but first the Orange must navigate the ACC. Duke, Florida State and Virginia are likely to finish in the top three spots in the ACC, but Syracuse could easily be the best of the rest. A lot will ride on Buddy Boeheim’s shoulders this year, but with the additions of Cole Swider and Jimmy Boeheim, Syracuse adds two more capable shooters to keep opponents honest. The player most likely to take Syracuse to the next level is Benny Williams. With a five-star recruit, the ceiling is high, but Jim Boeheim has noted that the freshman is still getting used to college basketball. Whenever Williams does end up adjusting, he will be another dynamic scoring option for the Orange.
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SYRACUSE MEN’S BASKETBALL IS LOOKING TO BUILD OFF ITS SWEET 16 RUN, BUT WOMEN’S BASKETBALL IS TRYING TO TRANSITION WITH A NEW IDENTITY WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Vonn Read is the only first-year head coach in the ACC
Priscilla Williams is the only returning player who played for Syracuse last season, since Ava Irvin and Teisha Hyman were injured
A majority of the players on the Syracuse women’s basketball 2021-22 roster are new players
Transfers from out of Power 5 schools
Teisha Hyman is the only player for Syracuse women’s basketball from New York state
REBUILDING WITH EXPERIENCE ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 5-13 MVP: PRISCILLA WILLIAMS X-FACTOR: JAYLA THORNTON
How does a team with nine new players and a new coach in charge rebound from a cluttered offseason of news about everything but their performance on the court? They can shoot the lights out. It’s a volatile approach for a college team, but for one that might center around isolation play, it could work to help establish the new identity of the team. The Orange probably won’t be at the same level as recent years, but I’m highest on their win total because I believe the quality of talent and experience brought in can mesh well into the ACC. There’s reason to think that by the end of the season, we’ll look back at two or three quality wins against ACC opponents. It will be a long year like 2006-07, however, if opponents exploit the lack of size to a point that Syracuse can’t recover.
TRUST THE PROCESS ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 4-14 MVP: PRISCILLA WILLIAMS X-FACTOR: ALAYSIA ST YLES
This season will be Vonn Read’s first as a head coach, but he is no stranger to high level basketball. Read has been with Syracuse since 2011-12 as an assistant and associate head coach, after previously working on Division I women’s basketball and NBA coaching staffs. The Orange’s acting head coach is no stranger to the DI style of play and knows how to coach around SU’s identity. He just needs to be trusted, as does his new cohort of majority transfer players. Six of the team’s seven transfers come from Power Five schools, and they are ready to make a name for themselves in the ACC. With Read’s anticipated high-pressing, offensively minded take on Syracuse basketball and a lot of new, experienced faces, only time will tell how long it takes for it to get things going, but the key is patience and trust.
All but one of Syracuse’s seven transfers are from Power 5 schools
DEFENSIVE NIGHTMARES ACC RECORD PREDICTION: 3-15 MVP: PRISCILLA WILLIAMS X-FACTOR: ALAYSIA ST YLES
Syracuse’s offense is littered with shooting options, highlighted by Priscilla Williams who dominated against ACC defenses last year. But defensively, the Orange don’t have the size to match up with their opponents. Alaysia Styles is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-3, as one of only two forwards on the team. Defensively, Style’s will face some of the best players in the conference like NC State center Elissa Cunane. If Syracuse can win the rebounding battle against its opponents, then it might have a chance of winning close games. But each game is going to be decided by who’s the most physical, and if Syracuse’s new persona revolves around physicality, it could win more than 10 games. Still, reaching this means that the team needs to completely gel together, which most likely won’t happen by the end of this season. There’s always next year.
10 basketball guide 2021
By Andrew Crane
M senior staff writer
ike Urban wanted a different environment, so he took Benny Williams and his IMG Academy teammates to the pond. It was the middle of the 202021 season, the point of the year when the mental conditioning coach’s time with his players became limited once the calendar flipped into December and January. Urban took any window he could get. When the group reached the pond, he asked them how many fish they would catch if they used their hands. Not many, they agreed. They needed bait, as well as rods and fishing line. But, Urban continued, the fish could survive without the bait — once it’s hooked, though, the fish is dependent on the bait’s controller. Urban wanted Williams and the other IMG players to consider what their basketball-related bait resembled, what threw them off during games. Was it a bad call? A missed shot? Parent comments from the stands? Then, he asked, what could they do after nibbling at that personalized bait and becoming hooked like the fish? “Once you’re on the hook, you have a hard time doing anything else,” Urban said. One missed shot led to two. Turnovers strung together. Comments toward referees resulted in technical fouls. Fish could avoid the hooks by not opening their mouths in the first place, by trying to jump out of the water and detach
BENNY WILLIAMS GREW FROM 5-FOOT-9 IN NINTH GRADE TO AROUND 6-FOOT-8 BY HIS SECOND SOPHOMORE YEAR. HIS HEIGHT BETTERS HIS ABILITY AS A FORWARD, THOUGH HE STARTED AS A GUARD after they’re hooked or by seeing the hook ahead of time to avoid it altogether. So what, Urban asked his players, will their verbal, physical or visual cue be to reset themselves after an error? Urban’s lesson wasn’t intended to impact IMG’s next game. It’d take time, which is why he designed a 10-week curriculum — centered around the theme of resilience — for Williams and his teammates. He had “to give them a how,” Urban said. Everything led to finding that individualized cue, and for Williams, that was wiping the bottom of his shoe. It was like a college freshman taking their first psychology class, freeing their
mind from the rigidity of thinking, said his father, Ben Williams. “I think Mike tapped into a part of the athlete that Benny didn’t even know existed,” Ben said. Williams’ year at IMG validated him as a player in his mind, Ben said. The previous four years of high school — two years on Riverdale Baptist (Maryland) School’s team, a reclassification and second sophomore year at St. Andrew’s Episcopal (Maryland) School, a late blossom onto the radars of college coaches, and finally, a transfer to the prep school — had helped craft that potential. And as Williams grew, from about
5-foot-9 when he started ninth grade to 6-foot-8, the extra height helped him expand his basketball toolbox because Williams already understood the intricacies of a shot, man defense, zone defense and where his strengths as a smaller guard could transition after he grew to resemble a forward. The unlocking of basketball’s mental complexities and the exponential physical growth that coincided with it has allowed Williams, the only Syracuse freshman on scholarship, to become a bridge between this season’s experience-based roster and next year’s freshman-laden one. But there was still the missing next step, the next peg of basketball maturity, required to prepare for his college and whatever might come next — and IMG showed him how to get to this level. “I told him, ‘If you go to IMG, you’re going to be in the gym with other four- or fivestars, and you’ll find out exactly where you are,” Ben said. “And I think he went down there and he proved … he’s a legit player.” With Urban, Williams initiated additional film sessions to pinpoint real-time examples of how to differentiate between reacting and responding. The reactions contained emotion that carried into subsequent plays, like when a referee made a bad call. The responses were based in belief that they’d get the next call right and Williams would make the next shot. In situations like those, when frustrations threatened to boil over, Williams learned to use his physical cue, to wipe the bottom of his sneaker, as a way to signify that he moved on from the situation. Urban and Williams also competed see WILLIAMS page 14
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She was just moving differently. Everything was different. CAITLIN TOWNES FORMER TEAMMATE
By Alex Cirino
W asst. copy editor
hen Jayla Thornton made her organized basketball debut as a seventh grader at the Ridge Street (New Jersey) Elementary School, her parents couldn’t believe she joined the team. Thornton had only watched basketball with her father, Jay. But he never knew his daughter had an interest in playing the game. “I didn’t really take her seriously until I went to one of her games and then I saw her play,” Jay said. Despite starting later than most girls her age, Thornton declared she wanted to play basketball for a living that day. Since then, Jay said he has committed himself to helping his daughter achieve her dream. Thornton’s game of “catch-up” has led her to a graduate year at Syracuse after spending her undergraduate career with Howard, where Thornton was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s 2020-21 Player of the Year. She holds the conference’s record for made 3-point field goals with 275. As a late bloomer to basketball, Thornton mastered shooting before developing other basic skills such as dribbling. Her shooting became an encouraging foundation to shape the rest of her game, her parents said. Growing in Jersey City, Jay was aware of the competitiveness of girls basketball in the Newark area, so finding the best training was the only way to quickly develop Thornton as a
JAYLA THORNTON HAS PLAYED A GAME OF “CATCH-UP” SINCE STARTING BASKETBALL IN SEVENTH GRADE. SHE WILL SUIT UP FOR THE ORANGE AFTER FOUR YEARS AT HOWARD player. He knew Thornton had to quickly match the caliber of the talent she faced — the kids who all started playing years before his daughter. “Most kids that start behind, you put that stress on them, it makes them kind of lose the love for the game or think ‘I’m not gonna get it,’” Thornton said. “I honestly just stayed in the gym. I just loved being in the gym. That was really an outlet for me.” Outside of those personal training sessions, Jay encouraged Thornton to watch professional and collegiate basketball games, and he often paused the TV to review a specific scenario. Many of those clips featured his favorite NBA player, Michael Jordan, leading the pair to study Jordan’s approach to different in-game situations. Thornton’s shooting ability defined her playing style, former teammates said. It’s why opposing teams yelled “shooter” whenever she stepped on the court, former teammates recalled. Her willingness to shoot whenever she had the opportunity inspired her teammates to do the same and quickly developed those around her to share that same offensive instinct on each team she played for. “She always said ‘if you have the right shot, take the shot,’” former Amateur Athletic Union club and Newark Tech (New
Jersey) High School teammate Jaylah Bennett said. At Howard, Thornton averaged just under 70 3-pointers per season, finishing her career with a shooting percentage of 34% from outside the paint. She recorded her 1,000th career point in December 2020 against LaSalle and ranks among the Bison’s top-20 all-time scorers. “She’s a high volume 3-point shooter,” local Historically Black Colleges and Universities sports expert Donal Ware said. “You take her off that team, that team is not as solid as they were in years past.” Thornton developed quick enough to become on par with her competition’s skill level, eventually allowing her to play for two of the country’s top AAU programs — New Jersey Sparks and iEXCEL — which led to the most noticeable jump in her game. Thornton’s improvement wasn’t mainly due to playing against better competition but rather the AAU’s intense training environment. At iEXCEL, practices were scheduled on the weekend and typically ran four to five hours long. With players coming to Newark from as far as Maryland and Philadelphia, multiple weekday sessions would not be feasible for the team. But the iEXCEL environment contributed
to its own high standards and ultimately the program’s winning culture. Occasionally, the program’s head coach Walter Welsh would stop his practices to call out his players for nearly an hour if he believed his players were not performing to their maximum potential. Former teammate Caitlin Townes said that Welsh demanded a fundamental system, which involved loud communication and other game-like scenarios including scrimmages that mimicked high-pressure moments like managing a game’s final seconds. That heightened approach translated toward Thornton’s standout performances for her high school team, Townes said. “I started seeing more pro moves from Jayla after we went to (iEXCEL),” Townes said. “She was just moving differently. Everything was different.” The skills learned from iEXCEL transitioned seamlessly to high school play, especially to Malcolm X Shabazz (New Jersey) High School, where Thornton and Townes helped fine-tune the school’s play style. In the quarterfinals of the 2016 Essex County tournament, then-junior Thornton was set to face Nutley (New Jersey) High School. The entire Shabazz roster was nervous as the Nutley squad featured Blair Watson, a then-McDonald’s All-American guard. Thornton guarded Watson the entire game, something Thornton’s mother, Shamirra, said motivated her to prove that her late start to basketball wouldn’t prevent her from keeping up with the nation’s 29th-best player. Thornton held Watson to a belowaverage 20 points and notched 23 points of her own in a 55-41 Shabazz win. see THORNTON page 14
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EVER SINCE COLE SWIDER WAS YOUNG, HE HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR HIS SHOOTING ABILITY. NOW, HE BRINGS HIS SHOOTING STROKE TO SYRACUSE By Gaurav Shetty
senior staff writer
or Jeff and Jenny Swider, family vacations revolved around basketball tournaments. Whether it was for Cole Swider or any of his three younger siblings, the Swider family traveled around from tournament to tournament. Jenny can’t count how many times the family has been to the ESPN Wide World of Sports — a hotspot for youth tournaments. But the Swiders wanted a change. So Jenny and Jeff planned a trip they called “the Pennsylvania loop” and took their children to kid-friendly attractions like Hersheypark and the Crayola Factory. The vacation was meant to be free of basketball, except there was one problem: 12-year-old Swider and his love for basketball, specifically shooting. So, Jenny had to pick hotels that had basketball hoops so Swider could practice shooting. “Most kids would look for a pool,” Jenny said. “Cole looked for a hoop.” Jeff accompanied Swider to the court and caught rebounds or watched his son play pickup with kids much older than him. “If (Cole) had to go more than a day without shooting, he was miserable to be around,” Jeff said, which is why Jeff estimated that the pair spent thousands of hours together
working on his shot. Still, Swider went on all family excursions and enjoyed his time at the parks, Jenny said. But the moment the family returned to the hotel, Swider’s siblings jumped in the pool, and he grabbed a basketball. Swider joins Syracuse from Villanova, where he played in 77 games, averaged 5.2 points and shot 35.7% from beyond the arc. In high school, Swider Syracuse was one of his top four choices, but he chose to commit to the Wildcats. But Villanova didn’t play to Swider’s strengths as a shooter or defender, Jeff said. Now, he’s back to one of his top options, where SU head coach Jim Boeheim said Swider is probably the best wing shooter Syracuse has had in decades. “It was just a mixture of right place, right time. And obviously having this opportunity has been amazing so far,” Swider said. At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Swider brings a unique blend of size and shooting to Syracuse’s roster. He said bigger players becoming more capable of shooting 3s is a new phenomenon. But it’s a trend that his parents saw coming. Both Jenny and Jeff were collegiate basketball players — Jenny played four years at the University of New Hampshire and Jeff walked on at Fordham University. Coincidentally, both Jenny and Jeff were traditional bigs, but because Swider’s pediatrician predicted that he would end up being
6’9 or 6’10, Swider’s parents said they wanted to avoid having Swider pinned to just one position and instead wanted him to be a well-rounded player. “We wanted to make sure each of our kids had the skills needed to play multiple positions,” Jenny said. “Because that’s where you’re most valuable for a team.” When he was younger, Swider played point guard to practice dribbling and driving to the hoop, but it was his obsession with shooting that set him apart. The Swiders built a basketball court in their backyard in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Jenny remembers Swider being “in his playpen” on the court. As soon as he could walk and hold a ball, Swider was out shooting on a kids hoop. Inside the house, he’d get shots up on an arcade basketball game. Jenny said all of his birthday parties were basketball-themed. When he was old enough, Swider began to shoot on the court no matter the weather or time of day. “Cole is the type of kid if he didn’t get a couple of hours in a day, the day wasn’t complete for him,” Jeff said. “We had lights on the court, he’d be out there shooting late at night all summer long. Our neighbors would hear the ball bouncing at 10 o’clock.” The lights on the court weren’t originally there. They were added because
see SWIDER page 14
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CHRISLYN CARR’S SPEED HAS HELPED HER STAND OUT AT TWO COLLEGES AND TWO HIGH SCHOOLS. SHE’S BRINGING HER QUICKNESS TO SYRACUSE THIS YEAR By Anthony Alandt
asst. digital editor
n high school, Chrislyn Carr’s speed was the first thing that separated her from other athletes her age, Carr said. She joined the Davenport West (Iowa) High School basketball team after running the 100-meter dash in middle school — something that her coaches and teammates knew widened her abilities as a player. Carr’s speed — which former Texas Tech head coach Marlene Stollings refers to as her “God-given talent” — allowed her to draw a foul on Iowa State’s Rae Johnson while Carr was playing for the Red Raiders. With the game tied against the Cyclones, Carr juked Johnson, forcing the foul call on a 3-point attempt, and Carr drained the ensuing three free throws to seal the game. “Just being able to go past everybody to make the right play,” Carr said of how important her speed is. “It’s always easier to direct and do so many things on the court.” Carr is now at her third college, Syracuse, after attending two different high schools. Despite the constant change of location that’s defined her career, she’s let her speed carry her to a multitude of accolades, including scoring over 2,000 points in high school and receiving an All-Big 12 honorable mention her sophomore year. Her speed is the different gear that put her on Rock Island (Illinois) head coach Henry Hall’s radar while Carr played for Davenport High School. Carr transferred hoping to receive bet-
ter looks from the Amateur Athletic Union and college programs, but Hall remembers her for a game that she dominated against his team. Anything Hall tried to do — double teaming, switching zone defenses — didn’t work against Carr. She took over the game and beat Rock Island single handedly, Hall said. It amazed him how much pace she played with, how she could dribble and stop on a dime then restart and explode into another gear. The way the ball looked like it was “on a string” when she dribbled came from someplace other than coaching, Hall said. After her first basketball tournament, Carr’s father and her brother, CJ, knew she had the talent to play at a high level. The pair watched Carr score in bunches and get physical with players who were two years older than her. That tournament planted the seeds of Carr’s coach-like leadership on the court, an “extension of the extension of the head coach on the floor.” Stollings would explain her vision for a certain play to Carr, then sit back with her arms folded on the Texas Tech sideline and watch as her plans played out. Carr could see the flow of the game better than anyone on the court, Hall said. Coaches didn’t need to tell her how to change the pace — she would speed up if the defense was lacking on transition or slow down if the game was becoming too fast. Stollings said Carr hit an unlucky streak, one where coaches leave after her arrival. Shimmy Gray-Miller recruited Carr to Texas Tech, then she was fired in favor of Stollings. After Carr’s two years at Texas Tech, Stollings was fired, and Carr went to Baylor to play
under Kim Mulkey, who left after one year to take the job at LSU. Looking for a change of scenery, Carr chose Syracuse just months before Quentin Hillsman resigned. “I’d describe her as resilient,” Stollings said. “I think she’s the epitome of that. A lot of kids would have probably thrown in the towel and been over it.”
I’d describe her as resilient. I think she’s the epitome of that. MARLENE STOLLINGS FORMER TEXAS TECH HEAD COACH At Texas Tech, Stollings said Carr was the fastest player in the Big 12. She had never seen that sort of baseline-to-baseline speed before, which boded well with the style of play that the Red Raiders carried to an 18-win season in 2019-20. Under acting head coach Vonn Read, who Stollings referred to as an offensive expert, Carr’s game can flourish. Allowing Carr to glide across the court in a wide-open offense made her the Big 12 freshman of the year at Texas Tech.
“I’m definitely an up-tempo player,” Carr said. “I like doing cool passes … cool moves to get to the basket.” Carr’s speed allows her to score at all three levels, Stollings said. Stollings had four or five go-to plays that the coaching staff could call for Carr to score. There was no question she’d get it done — the only question was whether or not the Red Raiders needed a 2- or 3-pointer. In some cases, Texas Tech utilized her speed to draw defenders away from other players beyond the arc, opening up passing options that Carr would easily exploit. In high school, Hall ran high-ball screens. With two teammates in their respective corners, Carr would come off a screen at the top of the key and plan how to attack. If the bigger player switched on to Carr, she’d easily speed past them for a layup. If the defender went under the screen, Carr shot from long range. “Either way, that was unstoppable,” Hall said. “If we needed a bucket, we would usually go to that. Carr’s speed allows her to play at a high level defensively. CJ’s favorite aspect of Carr’s game was watching her keep up with Division I guards throughout her time at Texas Tech and Baylor. Her speed allows her to elevate the play of her teammates, too. In her sophomore year at Texas Tech, Carr had 13 assists during a 30-point blowout win against Oklahoma State. “It’s just one of those things where you kind of get caught in awe of what she is and the things that she can do,” Hall said. email@example.com @anthonyalandt
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from page 10
WILLIAMS in push up and shooting competitions to see if Williams was making progress on what Urban had taught him. Mornings for Williams occasionally consisted of shooting classes as a window for honing his technique. Williams, at that point around 6-foot-8, had a lot more elevation that he had to work with than in years past. Shooting coach Jimmy Baron said at first, Williams didn’t fully grasp how he could get any shot he wanted with his athleticism. Baron taught Williams to aim for the back of the rim when shooting because hitting that spot would lead to more success as he became tired at the end of the game. In one shooting drill, Baron penalized players if they made it, or missed it, by hitting the front of the rim, but didn’t dock points if they missed by hitting the back rim. Not every shot will be perfect, he said, and that’s OK. Sometimes, the hand placement on the ball is different. Other times, the release won’t be perfectly centered. As Williams incorporated his lower body into the shot more, that would decrease the error of it. During games, Williams sparked IMG’s offense in transition by serving as the player that ran the wing after rebounds and then attacked downhill, finishing near the basket with a full head of steam, assistant coach Bob Gallager said. He averaged 16.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and, in its half-court offense, IMG ran Williams off wide pin-downs to open him up for one-dribble pull-ups or 3-pointers. And when defenders tried to steer him away from the 3-point line, Williams swept past them toward the basket and finished through contact. from page 11
THORNTON Thornton said Shabazz was the powerhouse of a competitive, deeply-rooted Newark basketball culture. It’s what drew Thornton to transfer after spending her freshman season at Newark Tech. Shabazz’s reputation was geared around its basketball program, and academics were never a priority, Townes said. While Thornton went to Shabazz for basketball, she also was a straight-A student, and she helped others on the team find this balance. Thornton’s academic success led her to Howard, which at the time was ranked the from page 12
SWIDER Jenny always had to call Swider inside when it got dark. The long hours weren’t just for 3-point shooting — Swider was also great at free throws. When Swider was in sixth grade, he participated in the Elks Hoop Shoot, a free throw shooting tournament for 8-13 year olds. This tournament spawned a few more family vacations because Swider shot his way to the finals. Ultimately, he finished in fourth place, but he had a desire for more competition, Jenny said. The need to challenge himself is how Swider ended up meeting his strength coach, Anthony Tingley. Tingley prepared for his senior year of high school by playing scrimmages against other high schoolers and even some older adults. But one day, Tingley remembers a small 12-year-old kid walking into the gym, whom he estimated was probably six inches to a foot shorter than every other player there. Normally, they’d hate to play with younger kids because it might slow the game down. But with Swider, it was different. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, (the) baby, the young kid,’” Tingley said. “It was like, ‘Oh, he can shoot, get on him.’” A few years later, Swider played for head coach Michael Hart at St. Andrew’s School. Swider played in what Hart called an “offense first” system, leading to Swider becoming the all-time leading scorer at St. Andrew’s with 2,900 points. In Hart’s system, Swider controlled the offense, playing point guard despite
But before Williams synthesized the two elements of his game like he did with the Ascenders, blending the physical intangibles with the internal understanding of how to maximize them, he needed to fill his evolving frame. Williams positioned himself as one of the better players in his age group growing up, but when his teammates continued growing as teenagers, Williams didn’t at the same rate. “He kind of fell behind physical-staturewise,” Ben said. But when he started high school, that trend changed. Williams didn’t play a typical Amateur Athletic Union schedule with his Mid Atlantic Select team in the summer of 2018 because of growing pains. Ben said an orthopedist told him it wouldn’t be worth it. Williams was growing too fast. When Williams was younger, the doctors had initially told Ben his son would be 6-foot-3. He secretly hoped Williams would be 6-foot-5, because that was the perfect height for a combo guard. But his son had already shot past that point. He grew from 5-foot-9 in ninth grade to around 6-foot-8 by his second sophomore year, when he arrived at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School for two seasons under Kevin Jones. Like the IMG staff soon later, Jones wanted Williams to push the ball in transition and understand the right pass to make when double-teams arrived. “No one was willing to just guard him one-on-one,” Jones said. Sometimes, they used Williams as a decoy. If they faced a zone, they pivoted to a high-low offense, where Williams was a triple-threat. “Him growing three inches didn’t really change what we were asking him to do,” Jones said. That summer, Williams returned to play in a Florida tournament with Mid Atlantic Select and head coach James Lee, where Ben said
Syracuse associate head coach Adrian Autry saw him play for the first time and invited him to an Elite Camp. “Why are you inviting him to the Elite Camp?” Ben asked. “He’s not on that level.” Ben knew Williams hadn’t matched the talent level of others at the Elite Camp yet — something he’ll joke with Autry to this day about. “Nah, I saw something in him,” Autry always jabs back. After COVID-19 threatened to cancel the St. Andrew’s season last year, Williams pounced on an invite from IMG. When Williams returned home that next spring from IMG, Ben bought his son a shooting machine for their driveway. They’d moved to a new house before Williams started his postgraduate year with the Ascenders and shared a milelong wooded space with Devone Williams, Ben’s cousin. Devone constructed a collegesized half court at his house in 2019, also complete with a shooting machine. The two houses, and two shooting machines, served as stations for Williams’ summer workouts before coming to Syracuse. Williams, Ben, Devone and Devone’s daughter found a local gym to rent out at 7 a.m., and then went back to the courts at their houses for the afternoon. They worked on Williams’ mechanics, release point and on the elevation he could use to make his shots more difficult to alter and defend. The shooting machine’s high net helped with that, forcing Williams to get more arc on his shot. These workouts, Devone said, weren’t intended to strip down Williams’ shot and recreate it weeks before summer practices started at Syracuse. He’d already gone through that process when he grew nearly a foot his first three years of high school and essentially learned how to play with his new frame. This time, the workouts were about “constant
reminders.” Of how far Williams had come to reach this point. Of the high trajectory that he’d set his career on. Of what he needed to consistently sharpen to ensure his trajectory stayed on point. At one point during the preseason, Ben drove up to Syracuse to visit Williams and arrived around 10:30 p.m. They thought about grabbing food, but Williams wanted to get shots up with his father. “It’s almost 11 at night, where are we getting shots up?” Ben asked. “The Melo Center,” Williams replied. He had 24-hour access now. This was before Williams flashed potential during the Orange vs. White event and the two exhibitions that followed in Syracuse’s preseason. It was before head coach Jim Boeheim said Williams was learning every day but still needed time. You can tell when Williams is going to miss his jump shot because it’s flat, Boeheim said. But for that night, as the clock neared midnight and then passed it, the Melo Center’s court reflected a scene similar to Williams’ development. Just like in their driveway, playing Around the World while Ben flirted with beating his son until Williams said, “let me stop playing with you” and made 10 shots in a row. Ben passed to Williams, who took his designated shots. Then, Williams passed to Ben, who likes the backboard shots, Williams said. Then they left the building — the same one Ben was surprised his son got invited to three years ago for the Elite Camp — and got food from Wings Over. The whole time, Williams said, his father couldn’t stop smiling. That night, along with the first exhibition, the transformation felt real to Ben.
second-best academic HBCU, per the 2017 US News and World Report rankings. Howard is a school prospective recruits choose because of its reputation beyond athletics, Ware said. “It gave her the opportunity to be one of those star players, to be someone to be remembered on the athletic side and still gain everything that she needed academically,” Shamirra said. Iasia Hemingway, who played two seasons at Syracuse from 2009-12, began coaching at Shabazz in 2014, the same year Thornton transferred into the program. Aside from their connection through playing at the same high school and later the same college, the two both started playing basketball in middle school. Hemingway
had to “catch-up,” just like Thornton did. “She had a drive similar to mine when I played ball,” Hemingway said. “When you find young girls, especially of her caliber, who really have a passion behind basketball, you find yourself really being attached to that.” Hemingway and Thornton stayed in touch while Thorton was at Howard, but Hemingway didn’t find out about Thornton’s commitment to Syracuse until after she made the decision. She missed Thornton’s phone call the day before she committed, when Thornton intended on discussing the program with Hemingway. Hemingway returned Thornton’s call the next day, congratulated her, and reminded her about all the times Thornton
told Hemingway she wanted to “go to the league,” and to make the most of a crucial graduate student year. Hemingway said that Thornton’s rise to Syracuse after becoming one of the country’s top HBCU athletes will serve as an inspiration to many young girls. Coming out of Newark, where advanced basketball resources are not easily accessible, its top players have to create their own pathway to top collegiate programs. “Her going to Syracuse is ... going to give so many girls confidence to want to do something similar to her,” Hemingway said.
being the tallest player on the court. “He did everything. He brought the ball up, he shot 3s, he posted up,” Hart said. “He did everything. You name it, he did it.” Hart remembered catching Swider some days at 6 a.m. in the gym working on his game, despite being the star player on the team. Tim Glover — a shooting coach — once led a practice for the team, and afterward, Swider came up and asked if he could continue working out, Glover said. At the time, Swider was already a top100 high school player, so the two worked on little things like footwork and where to place his left hand on the ball when shooting. Glover said that Swider is different from other shooters because of how high he gets the ball on the release point. But he also said most players at Swider’s height struggle to have a consistent release. “His shot form is just perfect every time whether he misses four or five in a row or makes four or five in a row,” Glover said. “It’s just consistently on point every single time. By the end of high school, Swider was one of the best shooters in the country, Hart said. It was around this time that Gerry McNamara reached out to Swider about playing at Syracuse. When Swider ultimately chose Villanova, Hart said he was shocked because he felt that “it was the worst fit for him of the four” schools — Xavier, Villanova, Duke and Syracuse. But Swider wanted to join a national championship contender, so he chose the Wildcats. In 77 games, Swider started only 17 times
for the Wildcats. Still, in limited action, Swider’s shooting skills stood out. Jeff remembered watching a practice where the coaching staff used a machine to measure the angle at which the ball entered the net. Ideally, a player’s shot enters the net at a 45-degree angle. All of Swider’s attempts were going in at 44, 45 and 46-degree angles, the best range of any Wildcat player at the time. Villanova associate head coach George Halcovage said Swider always had the perfect range for the arc and depth of his shot. “He’s one of the best shooters out there, potentially in the country,” Halcovage said. Yet Swider never really fit into Villanova’s style of play. Jeff said he realizes now that Villanova’s switching defense posed a challenge to Swider, who sometimes had to guard a 6-foot point guard or a 7-foot center depending on the switches. Hart said it was frustrating seeing Swider only take a few shots per game. Swider went from averaging 26.5 points per game as a junior in high school to only shooting 4.4 field goals per game with the Wildcats. After three seasons at Villanova, Swider decided to transfer. Jenny remembers Swider coming back from Villanova and being on the phone for three hours fielding calls from other colleges. Soon enough, he received a call from a familiar face — McNamara. This time around, Swider carefully studied each school’s style of play and decided that Syracuse would be the best fit for him and his shooting ability. “The Villanova offense was a lot of
guard penetration,” Swider said. “Here (at SU), we run a lot of down screens, a lot of stagger screens and the offense runs through the shooters.” At SU, Swider will be tasked with replacing some of the production left behind by forwards Quincy Guerrier and Marek Dolezaj. But Swider offers something different, and he showcased his ability to shoot from 3 in his first points with the Orange during an exhibition game against Pace. Swider began the play in the left corner of the court, with the ball in Benny Williams’ hands on the opposite wing. But then Frank Anselem curled toward Swider and set an offball screen to set Swider free. He flashed to the top of the wing to catch a pass from Williams and then turned, set his feet and drained the 3. He drained another from beyond the arc and finished the night with 21 points, making 71% of his 3-pointers. Swider only topped 20 points once in his three years at Villanova. “He understands what we’re doing, and he can shoot. And he can shoot, and he can shoot, and he can shoot, okay?” Boeheim said, chuckling. For Swider, Syracuse is a return to a team where he can do what he does best: shoot. “For the past two years, three years, I’ve wanted to play with that chip and passion I’ve always played with in high school and AAU,” Swider said after the Pace game. “So it feels good to finally feel like myself and get back to the player I know I am.”
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