Jan. 31, 2007
The clock is ticking down in a critical game for Florida State. Junior guard Isaiah Swann has the ball in his hands near the top of the key and with a weak defender on top of him, thinks he’s got a chance at a shot. He dribbles left, then right, looking for the golden opportunity that could put his team ahead.
Before he find that opportunity however, Swann spots teammate and All-American Candidate, Al Thornton, open for a shot of his own that would give the team a much-needed victory.
Last year’s Isaiah might have taken that shot. Isaiah of two years ago almost definitely would have taken that shot. Isaiah of three years ago wouldn’t have blinked an eye before taking that shot.
But Isaiah of this year doesn’t even think twice about that shot. This year’s Isaiah knows what it really means to sacrifice for the big picture. He bounces the ball to Thornton, watches it swish through the net seconds later, then joins his teammates for the post-game celebration.
“It’s cool with me,” said Swann in a recent interview. “As long as we’re winning, as long as we’re having fun out there, as long as we’re getting the job done, I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win. I know I’ve sacrificed a lot, making the extra pass. I could take more shots, but I know we’ve got Al (Thornton) Toney (Douglas) and Jason (Rich) on our team and offensively they’re as good as anybody we’ve got or as good as anybody in our league.”
Of course, the thing you have to understand about Swann is, at this point in his playing career, a few shots not taken doesn’t even register on the long list of sacrifices he’s made just to keep basketball in his life.
Five years ago, Swann made his first major basketball sacrifice during his sophomore year at Magruder High School outside Washington, DC . At the time, Swann’s sub-par grades had landed him a spot on the bench for most of Magruder’s 2002 season. As he watched his basketball dreams slip away, the Germantown, Md. native realized he would have to leave the city streets behind if he wanted to stay on the court.
“I used to be bad–I mean, problem child. I was terrible. I never did as well in school as I should have. I had a couple teachers telling me `You will never be anything. You will never get to play basketball,’ because they knew how much I loved the game and they knew that that would get to me.”
And that’s exactly what it did. Those teachers struck a nerve with Swann, making him realize that he’d better clean up his act in a hurry.
So at the end of that school year, Swann put his old neighborhood in the past and crossed the state line to attend boarding school at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. In addition to working on his grades, Swann led Oak Hill to a 31-4 record while averaging 17.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, Oak Hill did not take fifth-year seniors, so at the end of the 2003 season, Swann had to transfer to another Virginia boarding school to finish out his high school career. This time, he found himself donning a uniform for Hargrave Military Academy. While he continued to work on those grades off the court, on the court he took his team to a 25-1 record, averaging 28.3 points a game along the way.
With his high school diploma finally in hand, Swann made another difficult decision in 2004, turning down the University of Maryland (the team he’d grown up watching) to attend school at Florida State.
But Swann’s sacrifices for basketball did not end when he arrived in Tallahassee. His freshman year, he transitioned to point guard, but after a season of struggles, the coaching staff moved him to shooting guard.
Now in his second year at the number two spot, Swann has finally found his niche. After 17 starts, he leads the team in steals (31) and assists (56) while still shooting a .416 average.
Off the court, Swann’s sacrifices have meant even more–he’s now only a year away from becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“I think the biggest thing for me was to get away from what I was familiar with and from all the distractions–away from everything–and just try to focus on what I want to do,” said Swann. “I had my doubts in high school. I wanted to go home, I just wanted to stop playing basketball–I didn’t think it would be worth it. But now that I look back on it, I’m glad I did that. I’m glad I left home, I’m glad I went to Oak Hill, and I’m glad I went to Hargrave. I glad I came to Florida State. I’m just really thankful that I made that sacrifice, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
It seems for Swann that some sacrifices are just worthwhile.
By Shannon O'Neil FSU Sports Information