Robert Swift, the seven footer from Bakersfield, CA is almost an enigma. Everyone knows his name; far fewer have seen his face or his game. This weekend I made the trek to Bakersfield (Robert's father Bruce once gave directions that read in part "Make a left at the third cow.") to do two things few have done lately; watch Robert play (a recently resolved court case threatened Robert's eligibility), and sit down with him for an interview. What followed was great conversation about players, teams, coaches, basketball courts, and courts of law.
Robert is even keeled.
"He makes his own decisions," Bruce Swift, Robert's father told me, "His mother and I are here for support, and we'll tell him what we think, but in the end everything that Robert has decided is what he thinks is best for him."
"I sit down at least twice a week with my mom and dad and we discuss everything that is going on. They have always supported me no matter what I've done." Robert said.
And they all genuinely seem to mean it. "This is my job," Bruce tells me pointing at his video camera before Robert's team took the court on Saturday.
When he talks Robert speaks in measured tones. He swears he hasn't done interviews like this before, and whether he's pulling my leg or not it doesn't really matter. If he's kidding with me, he sounded genuine (always a good interviewee trait), and if he's telling the truth he's way ahead of where he should be (another good interviewee trait is appearing less nervous than the interviewer). He smiles, and laughs at times, and while he's open about his life, his fellow teammates, controversy, and girls, he gets genuinely excited when he talks about Tom Cruise's latest, The Last Samurai.
I'd decided to try to make Robert comfortable, maybe break the ice between us, and then at the end of the interview I'd drop the question, "Will you declare for the NBA draft." Problem was there was no ice to break. By the time I got around to asking the question there was no drama and the exchange that followed didn't sound like two guys talking about the difference between co-eds and $30 million.
James Renwick: So the big question, are you going to declare?
Robert Swift: It depends. It depends on where I'm at, how I feel!
JR: What are the parameters? In pre-draft stuff I've seen you projected everywhere from #8 to #24. Everybody puts you in the first round. It was right before the Vegas Tournament (The 2003 Adidas Big Time) that you were ranked highest. It was the first time a lot of people had seen you, you played really well and you played (Atlanta, GA's Dwight) Howard, who's generally considered a top 5 pick, straight up.
RS: One of the things that I found interesting was that, talking later to some of the scouts around, they said that something that really helped me was playing on the last day. A lot of the guys, after they found out they'd made the All-Star Team sat out the last day. I was just out there having fun. I was there to have fun and play basketball, so I played all the games.
JR: That work ethic had to please a lot of scouts. What would it take for you to declare? How high would you have to go?
RS: It wouldn't be how high, it would be what team I'd be on, what my role on that team would be.
JR: Where you like to play, do you want to stay close to home? Is there a NBA team where you like the offense, where you like the coach's philosophy, are you looking to score?
RS: It's not about scoring, I don't expect to score my rookie year because I'm going to be a rookie. I just want to be able to play, and learn.
JR: Do you want to go somewhere there is an established veteran?
RS: A lot of people say, you know, you don't want to go to the Lakers because Shaq's going to be there. But you know he's not going to be there that much longer and it would be great to go against him everyday, and learn from him, because he's the best in the game right now.
JR: So would that be the ideal situation for you?
RS: It would be if I were going to play behind somebody.
JR: If you're not going to start that would be it?
RS: It's not even necessarily starting, but if I wasn't going to play a lot of minutes that would be the only situation I'd go to.
JR: If you found that you were going to be a lottery pick you would declare?
JR: If you were going to be in the top 20?
RS: I'd have to find out more information on the situation.
JR: OK, let's go with the nightmare scenario. You're projected as a lottery pick, you sign with an agent and:
RS: I won't sign with an agent.
JR: You won't?
RS: I will not. If I don't like the situation I'll pull out of the draft. That's why I'm making sure I'm academically eligible for USC.
JR: So is that the route you're probably going to go. Declare, but not sign with an agent and see what happens and go to USC?
RS: Yes, but that might change.
It happened so fast, I admit I wasn't ready for it. I didn't really think he would give me an answer, and when he did I sort of blew it.
So like any good reporter, I called back later, and tried to press the issue. I told his father that I was writing that Robert was going to declare.
"Yes, he's going to test the waters. He wants to keep his options open, and this is the best way for him to do that," Bruce told me.
And that sound you here are draft boards, boards that are still five months away from anything even resembling usefulness, being frantically reshuffled. The big man is coming out. Probably. If the situation is right on draft day, Robert Swift will become a member of the working class, if not, he'll mosey down state to USC and dominate the Pac 10, biding his time until he finds the right situation. It makes sense, and Robert likes it when things make sense. In our next installment, we'll talk about something that does not make sense to Robert, the CIF.
Stay with us all week long as PrepCA.com brings you more from Robert Swift concerning Coach Bibby's reaction to Robert's announcement, what Robert thinks about Bakersfield High's chances in the upcoming state tournament, and how his recent court ruling affected where, when, and if he'd play basketball this year.