Robert Swift seems like a coach's dream, and any level of coach at that. Justin Hutson of BHS says, "Robert leads by example, he works hard, and if there is a flaw in his game it is that he is too unselfish, he could actually shoot more."
How often do you hear that about a superstar? Even more important, how much of an asset will that be for Robert at the next level?
Robert's feelings about the coaching staff at BHS are just as complimentary. "They really know what players need, and they try to give that to you. They want to help players out as players, but also as people."
He is agreeable, and willing to take anything on. When I asked Robert whether he wanted to talk about his life or basketball first he claimed not to care. I wanted him to make a decision, maybe see if there was something he did not want to talk about.
James Renwick: What do you want to talk about first, basketball or your life?
Robert Swift: It doesn't bother me either way.
JR: We're going to talk about both, but you have to decide which is first.
Points to my legal pad where the questions are.
RS: What's on that page right there?
JR: This is stuff about your life.
RS: Then let's start with that.
Apparently there would be no skeletons in this closet.
And there really don't seem to be. When I ask about his family, he smiles. "They've never pushed me to do anything. I played baseball and football when I was younger, and they helped me do that, and then when I started playing basketball, they supported me there, but there was never any pressure. It was all about what I wanted."
It goes beyond his family though.
"One of my best friends, who's helped me out a lot, plays at the University of Santa Cruz. His name is Matt Robles, he was the point guard at Garces my freshman year. We only got to play together one year, but we've staying in contact and I'm still friends with him and his family. He comes over here all the time when he's in town and I still talk to him all the time."
And the circle of friends is growing.
RS: I know people in almost every state. I know a lot of people, I know Sebastian (Telfair), I've played with him a lot, Marvin Williams from Washington, DeMarcus Nelson and I are friends, and I talk to Dwight (Howard) every chance I get, just to see how things are going. I've played with Shaun Livingston a lot, and know him.
JR: You're getting to the point now where there are going to be some real difficult decisions on who you can trust and who you can't, have you figured that out yet, or is it something you're still getting used to.
RS: I know some of my friends that I can trust. I know I can trust Matt, I have another friend at Cal State that I played with for a couple years at Garces named Tyler Harris. I have some that I can trust, but I know there are some that are just there because.
He smiles again here, but it is a different kind of smile. Robert some times comes off as the quiet kid who just goes along for the ride. This smile erases any doubt that he knows the score. Not everyone is going to be in his life for the right reasons, and the he knows the difference between those people and the ones who are there to help. He realizes there will be people coming out of the woodwork now, all with their hands out, all saying he owes them, and he's prepared for that.
There is certainly one friend who Robert owes a debt to though.
JR: Who got you started playing basketball?
RS: That's another one of my good friends, his name is Genesis Walker. He'd talk to me in class and say, "Hey, you should come out and play with us, we're at this court at this time. I'd never really played before, but they talked me into it.
JR: How tall were you then?
JR: Did you have to be pushed?
RS: Yeah, I'd say so, I didn't really have an interest, but they got me out there and I started playing and learning a little about the game. After that I liked it, but I really didn't like basketball before that.
Hearing Robert talk about it, you get the feeling Mr. Walker might have a little something extra in his stocking a year or two from now.
JR: What are some of the things you've had to put behind basketball in the order of importance?
RS: Right now the top priority is getting myself eligible, so school comes first. But then its basketball and weight lifting.
JR: Are there things you've given up?
RS: There are things I like to do, like go to the movies, that I can't do as often as I want to.
JR: Is it worth giving that stuff up?
RS: Yeah because I'm having fun playing basketball. I might be having fun doing those other things, but right now I know I'm going to have fun playing basketball.
That is the key ingredient in Robert's success. Through controversy and growth and expectations, when Robert steps on a court he's having fun. It almost seems like everything else is just a bonus for him. Whether Robert gets drafted this summer into a situation he's comfortable with, and elects to become a pro, or he pulls out of the draft and enters USC as the best freshman center in the country, Robert is doing what every teenager hopes to do, having fun doing what he loves. For Robert Swift the future has many possibilities and they all start at center court with a tip off.