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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

OPINION: Men’s Basketball just won’t back down
Abigail Taylor, Contributing writer • February 27, 2024

John Swinton, the unsung hero of Wofford’s stellar basketball seniors

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SENIOR GUARD IS A TEAM LEADER AND DEFENSIVE FORCE FOR MIKE YOUNG’S TERRIERS—

When John Swinton came to Wofford College in 2011, he was relatively unknown. The lone walk-on in a class that included six scholarship freshmen,

Swinton’s only scholarship offers came from Division II schools. Swinton was the only South Carolinian in the class that included players from Minnesota, Massachusetts, Chicago and Atlanta.

Four years later Swinton will leave Wofford as a scholarship player, a team captain and a Southern Conference champion. Swinton is one of three seniors who remain from the original seven in the class of 2015, but his ascendance to his current role has more to do with his work ethic than the departure of other players.

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After starring at Wando High in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Swinton had a choice to make. He could accept a scholarship from one of the several Division II schools that offered him a full ride or accept a preferred walk-on spot at Wofford College, where he would have some academic aid, but no promise of a full ride and an uphill battle to earn playing time. Swinton chose Wofford for a number of reasons.

“My high school coach David Eaton played at Wofford for Coach Young so there was a connection there,” Swinton says. “Also Wofford’s academic reputation was a huge part of deciding where to go.”

Being a walk-on player brought Swinton additional challenges. Fellow senior Lee Skinner saw the pressure that Swinton was under.

“Being a walk-on he had to maintain a certain GPA to keep his academic financial aid,” Skinner says. “He was working really hard on the court, but sometimes I could tell that he was thinking more about school.”

Swinton had the same obligations as the scholarship players on the court but had to maintain a higher GPA as he worked towards his biology major.

Swinton stepped up to the challenge and made the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll as a freshman.

Coach Mike Young realized early on that Swinton’s Wofford career would be a successful one.

“[Swinton] is a ‘how-to’ guy. If you want to learn how to act watch him; if you want to learn how to play watch him; if you want to learn how to work and succeed at the college level and succeed as a student, watch him.”

Young says that Swinton was on his radar in high school, and he was ecstatic when Swinton decided to attend Wofford.

“He started attending camp here in the summer with his high school team,” Young says. “He was a scrawny high school guy that needed to get bigger and stronger. But I always liked him as a person.”

Once Swinton enrolled at Wofford, he began to transform into a big-time contributor almost immediately. Swinton logged time in his first game ever for Wofford against the Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC in Athens, Georgia. From that point Swinton’s role grew, and it didn’t seem like it would be long before Swinton earned the scholarship he was working for. Young realized how consistent Swinton was, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

“He is what he is. He is the most reliable player, the best teammate,” Young says. “He might play for five minutes, he might play for 25 minutes, but I know what I am going to get. He is going to guard ,and he is going to take care of the ball.”

Skinner also saw the strides his teammate was making.

“Coming in, he was one the smallest guys, but he worked hard, and you could tell he wanted it more than anything.”

Swinton finished his freshmen year with two starts, and played in 18 total games.

At the beginning of his sophomore year Swinton’s role expanded, and Young realized that his guard was developing into someone who deserved a full scholarship. Swinton had also gotten larger – up to 185 pounds from his high school weight of 165.

“I felt bad that he wasn’t a scholarship player his sophomore year,” Young says, but the coach was unable to give Swinton a scholarship because of previous obligations to players.

Swinton took the next step on the court though, starting 11 games before a stress fracture in his foot set him back for the remainder of the season. Entering his junior year Swinton was gaining even more respect from his teammates. Swinton received multiple nominations to be a team captain despite the fact that he still was a non-scholarship player and only a junior.

“That just goes to show how the team feels about him,” Skinner says. “To be nominated as a junior and a walk-on – that is huge.”

Swinton’s junior year was the turning point of his Wofford career. He logged significant minutes in the team’s non-conference schedule, but when the Southern Conference schedule began, Swinton saw his average minutes drop to just three minutes per game over the first five games of the SoCon slate.

The Terriers won just two of these games and fell to seven and ten overall. Then came a game against Western Carolina on Jan. 20 2014. Swinton scored seven points and played 11 minutes. The Terriers won. That game was the beginning of a nine game winning streak where Swinton never played fewer than 10 minutes in any game.

In the middle of his junior year Swinton finally got the news that he had been waiting two and half years for. With Indiana Faithfull departing from the program, Swinton finally got the scholarship he had been working for.

“It was awesome,” Swinton says. “Everything I worked for had paid off.”

Skinner was ecstatic for his teammate and friend.

“I nearly cried. I choked up. I know for a fact that he would feel the exact same for me.”

For Swinton it was the realization of a dream “Your dream as a basketball player is to earn that scholarship,” he says.

Swinton also enjoyed the opportunity to tell his parents that the rest of his college education was paid for.

“It was great to take that off of them, and it gives you some new independence.”

Swinton is quick to point out that his success on the court wouldn’t be possible without the help of many others.

“It has been awesome to get to play with [Skinner] and Karl Cochran,” Swinton says. “Both of those guys are once-in-a-generation type players, and it has been awesome to see the transition from freshman year to now.”

The three seniors are all captains, and Young says their complementary leadership styles have helped this year’s team succeed.

“Their personalities complement each other,” Young says. “[Swinton] is not as outspoken, but people listen because he has earned great respect.”

Skinner agrees with Young. “We are like the three musketeers,” Skinner says.

“[Cochran], he is a superhero. Sometimes the focus and attention can be on him, but knowing he loves us as much as we love him we can bring him to our level, which is needed sometimes,” Skinner says.

“Swinton is that ‘glue guy.’ He brings me in when I lose my cool. He can take direction. We all mesh very well.”

Swinton is quick to give credit to others who have helped him during his college career.

“People around me – family, teammates, coaches and friends – deserve credit. The fact that it wasn’t all on me was huge.” Swinton, Skinner and Young all mentioned the help of Swinton’s parents and his brother, Trey, who played basketball at The Citadel for a year and is now in the Air Force. “[Swinton] has just a beautiful family,” Young says. “He has a mother and father who are so supportive of him.”

“They are great people. You can tell right away that he is their son, and they are his parents,” Skinner says. “I remember sophomore year I was going through some stuff, and I was on the phone with his parents, and they passed the phone back and forth for 30 minutes talking to me while I was crying. It is little things like that that become big things.”

Whatever the cause of his success, Swinton has become a vital part of one of the most successful teams in Wofford history. The Terriers will lean on Swinton and his fellow senior leaders as the team tries to secure back-to-back SoCon championships for the second time in program history.

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