Robert Swift is one of the best. We know because the experts tell us so, but we also know because he's played with them. Robert has matched up with the best seniors in the country, and he's matched up with some of the best big men in the college and pro ranks as well.
His coach at Bakersfield High, Justin Hutson, saw him go head to head with Atlanta's Dwight Howard at the ABCD camp in New Jersey this past summer. Howard has said he is planning to enter the NBA draft after his senior season, and has been projected as a lottery pick, possibly even top 5.
"These two guys (Howard and Swift) are apples and oranges, but what you could really see was that Robert would not back down. He doesn't get intimidated by anybody, and they played straight up."
The stats would indicate that Coach Hutson is right on point, as both Howard and Robert finished with eight points each.
At USC Asst. Coach Mike Johnson went even further when talking about Robert's game. "I think Robert's the first true, on the block 5 to come out of high school in a long time. He's knows he's a 5, and he's got the power and tenacity to play down on the block. He likes to do the dirty work, rebounding, playing great defense, and he's a very skilled passer. When you look at a guy like (Dwight) Howard, he runs the floor really well, and likes to do things with the ball, but he's not a true center. Robert is."
At the ABCD camp they agreed. Coming into the camp Howard was listed as the #1 center, Robert #2, but by the end of the camp Howard was the #1 PF, and Robert had become the #1 center.
I asked Robert how he felt he matched up against some of the best big men in the country.
James Renwick: Talk to me about Dwight Howard.
Robert Swift: He's a great player. There's not too many high school kids who go 6'10" and 230lbs that are super athletic. He gets off the floor fast, he's quick, it's fun to play against him.
JR: It's fun?
RS: Yeah, because he makes me go out there and play. I can't take a play off on defense, and I can't take a play off on offense because if I put up a lazy shot it'll get beat.
JR: Is he the best big man you've played against?
RS: The best high school player.
JR: Who've you played against at the college level, or pro ball.
JR: What'd you think of Eddie Curry?
RS: He's huge. A great player. Luckily he was on my team, or I don't know what would happen.
JR: Is he the best youve played against?
RS: One of them.
JR: Who's better?
Robert laughs, he does that when you ask him to rank players. He knows he's going to have to go against these guys soon, and he doesn't want to make any enemies before he even gets to that level.
JR: Are there any other high school players you've played with or against who stick out?
RS: Randolph Morris (6'11" 250lbs Landmark Christian School, Fairburn, GA) is my age, he's underrated, and I had trouble guarding Al Jefferson (6'10" 265lbs Prentiss High, MS), but I just tried to go out and play him hard and straight up and I held him to four points.
JR: You held him to four?
RS: I had 12, he had four.
Robert has played with California Team Select for three years, and his coach there, Thaddeus McGrew, has had the pleasure of watching him develop and excel against the players Robert talked about, and many more.
"Robert is guy who's really improved with experience. You've heard the term "sponge" and it fits Robert perfectly. What he does so well is not just learn, but then apply what he's learned to game situations. Great post defense, and the ability to be a great offensive player too." Coach McGrew told me. I asked if Robert's athleticism was at the level of Howard, Morris, or Jefferson. "Definitely. He's not some stiff down low. He runs and jumps well, is very agile, I think he's athletically comparable to any of those guys. Everyone he played against he held his own. I watched him against LaMarcus (Aldridge of Dallas, TX) and he played right with him. That's one of the most athletic guys in the country, and Robert held his own. There's no question in my mind he's one of the two or three best centers in the country, and one of the 10 best players overall."
Don't mistake Robert's confidence for ego. He told me a story about playing against Curry in the NBA camp.
RS: I came down and set up on the block and Eddie was guarding me. The pass came into the post and it was a little high so I jumped up and grabbed it, and he just gave me a little nudge in the back. I land and look down and I'm like two feet from the three-point line. He's just so strong.
Robert was shaking his head and laughing, like he still couldn't believe it. It was the perfect time for a kid to tuck tail and accept that the older, stronger Curry had his number, but that's just not the way Robert works.
RS: The coaches were all telling me, "That's Eddie Curry, you can't let him do that," so the next time down the floor I just put a forearm into his back and pinned him under the basket.
Robert laughs again.
RS: I don't back down.
Coach Johnson of USC said it was the best trait about Robert, he just worked as hard as he could, all the time, and wasn't afraid to mix it up. Dirty work. That's what Coach Johnson called it. Right now Robert's nickname is "Big Rob," but if he continues to play with this much fire and intensity, "Big Rob" could become "Dirty Work" in a hurry.