The graduate student could barely limp — even with help on each shoulder. Maybe half of the fans knew his backstory. Swopshire arrived from Louisville, hoping to make an impact, and he was getting there. But those that didn't know could understand his pain. Injuries are horrible breaks for every athlete. This just seemed especially bad for Jared Swopshire.
He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, and his season is over. So ends his college basketball career. The player expected to help replace John Shurna can only watch as this bad-luck season expires. Just as we watched Swopshire tap into his potential, it all came to an abrupt end.
Swopshire averaged 3.3 points in 13 minutes per game last season. After the Final Four run, there was no scholarship available for him at Louisville. Yet he arrived at Northwestern to great enthusiasm — at least by this school's standards. Even watching him contribute in a smaller role for the Cardinals, you could sense his ability. More important: he endeared himself to teammates. They wanted him to find individual success.
When the Wildcats beat Mississippi Valley State in an early-season contest, Swopshire erupted for 22 points — including 5-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. Teammates said they were thrilled for him. He wanted to be the guy, and here he was, starring on a team looking for its first tournament appearance ever.
Taking that lead role, though, was a difficult process. Swopshire went scoreless in the surprise loss to UIC, and failed to hit a field goal when Butler won in Evanston. After the Iowa home game, coach Bill Carmody said Swopshire was "floating around." He was searching for that identity, and for one performance to tie everything together.
Carmody challenges every player on his team. And he expected more. Then-No. 2 Indiana came to town on Jan. 20, and NU was especially bad in the first half. The Cats scored 17 first-half points and appeared as lethargic as ever. Swopshire showed just how badly he wanted to compete. They ended up losing, but Swopshire scored 10 of his 13 points in an excellent second half. Despite the loss and the 2-4 conference record, his effort on both ends gave the team hope.
Then, there was the Minnesota game — one that was memorable in itself. Regardless of how this season ends, there will be those terrific images of Reggie Hearn fist-pumping and of Swopshire leading the team to an upset. Swopshire attacked the basket and made some exceptional shots. He hit a crucial corner three and finished with 16 points. For a moment, it all came together.
On Saturday, NU was losing by four when Swop went down for good. The Cats could no longer keep up, and Iowa rolled to a commanding 14-point win.
It was up and down, but Jared Swopshire's brief NU career ended as a success. His 6.7 rebounds per game marked the highest average for an NU player since famed big man Evan Eschmeyer roamed the campus.
He proved what he always wanted to prove: he was better than a role player. The team will miss his production.
And from every account, he was a superb teammate. As humble as they come. Carmody joked in a preseason press conference that Swopshire made Drew Crawford "look like a thug." This was high praise considering that Crawford represents just about everything good about this program.
The Northwestern basketball community loved him. They wanted him to succeed, and he did.
We can be proud of what Jared Swopshire accomplished. It's just tough to see him fall.
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