Swanagan Defines 'Captain'

There are athletes who say they are attracted to Notre Dame because of the academics. Then there are athletes like Harold Swanagan who mean it. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports on a true Irish captain, getting ready for the game of his life Saturday versus his home state team.

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January 18, 2002

Swanagan: Worthy
Irish Captain

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – If you’re at the Joyce Center tomorrow, save your loudest cheer for Harold Swanagan. If you’re watching on CBS, send some positive vibes in the direction of the 6-7, 247-pound senior. If you’re enjoying the game with your kids, tell them that Swanagan is worthy of their respect.

Swanagan is the least celebrated of the three Irish senior captains, including Ryan Humphrey and David Graves. He isn’t even the most heralded Kentuckian on the Notre Dame roster, that honor going to last-shot artist Graves.

But when No. 12 Kentucky visits campus Saturday, Swanagan may just be the best story on the floor.

He’ll be the least talented of the 10 starters. But that doesn’t matter. What does is that Harold Swanagan is a starter at the University of Notre Dame and is excelling off the court academically and socially.

"I’ve come a long way," Swanagan told IrishEyes on a couple of different occasions this year. "Who would have thought I’d still be here?"

Swanagan was not the standard "good fit" at Notre Dame when he was recruited out of tiny Hopkinsville, Kentucky by John MacLeod. His parents were rarely around, and Swanagan was raised by his grandmother and great aunt. His grades were questionable. His confidence was limited. He was a risk.

How do you think a black 6-7 kid from Kentucky with limited social and academic skills fit in his first week of classes as a Notre Dame freshman?

"It wasn’t easy," said Swanagan. "But I never thought about quitting."

He averaged six points and just under four rebounds a game his freshman year, hitting his first five Big East shots in a win over Providence and scoring 17 against Duke. But it was clear he was just going to be a bit player, especially with Troy Murphy around.

His numbers did not spike up under Matt Doherty, though he did start 34 of 37 games. His most memorable moment was setting a perfect screen for Graves to hit the game-winning shot in the season opener at Ohio State. The screen has become his signature.

"No-one really appreciates how much we need Harold Swanagan in our line-up, for those screens alone," says current coach Mike Brey.

But it took Brey awhile in the 2000-01 season to warm up to Swanagan. He played eight, nine, eight, seven, 12 and 11 minutes in consecutive December games. It was not a happy Christmas.

"I became miserable," Swanagan told IrishEyes at Big East Media Day this past October. "I was mad about the situation, but madder that I was letting my team down with my behavior. Something had to change."

Swanagan did. After Notre Dame lost in shoddy fashion at Kentucky, the Irish dropped to 9-5. Swanagan told Brey he was re-committed. Brey inserted him into the starting line-up, and the Irish won eight straight. It launched the program’s NCAA Tournament run.

All the while, Swanagan became more comfortable on campus and in the classroom. When a Sociology professor Swanagan respects suggested he take a class in the United Kingdom over the summer, Swanagan was on the first plane.

"It was the greatest thing I did," said Swanagan. "I was taking advantage of a Notre Dame education."

Properly inspired academically and athletically, Swanagan is truly performing like a captain this year. He’s not going to play at the next level, but his 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds are the best of his career. When healthy, he still sets those killer screens. And no-one outworks him.

This week in the Syracuse newspapers, Murphy was quoted about how "miserable" it was in South Bend and how he now lives alone in a three-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area to "compensate" for the lack of living space he had in his residence hall.   Swanagan had to laugh at this.  He didn't even have the means to get home for Christmas this year and is the only senior on the basketball team to still live on campus.   He has to.

And, oh, he also had a 3.5 in the Fall semester. The best on the team. Some academic risk.

"I would love to have Harold back with me next year, working with our freshmen," Brey said Friday afternoon at the Notre Dame Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon. "He’ll tell those kids what Notre Dame is all about."

Yes, Harold Swanagan has come a long way. He is what Notre Dame is all about. And he’s worthy of your cheers.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)

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