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An attachment to Sudbury for coach Shawn Swords
2019-08-21

“I think I am quite happy right now.”

Maybe this time, folks might actually believe Shawn Swords.

Preparing for his 13th season as head coach of the Laurentian Voyageurs men's basketball team, the Ottawa native who starred, as a player, at the university that now employs him, has contended for some time that he would be more than content with a long and fruitful ride as the man guiding his alma mater.

This despite the sentiments of those not in the know that the Canadian Olympian would merely be using his coaching gig in Sudbury as a springboard, looking to move on to bigger and better things after having established himself in the great white north.

Yet, as he embarks on a second decade with a team that has enjoyed a fair degree of success, especially when measured against the challenge of competing in the toughest division, by far, in the country, Swords appears more than a touch comfortable in his shoes.

And why not?

Maintaining close contact with the national sport governing body that selected him to suit up at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney (Australia), the now 45 year old father of two has tackled more than his share of summer coaching gigs, his most recent as the main man with the Team Canada entry at the FISU Games in Italy.

“I try and take the opportunities to expand my horizons,” Swords said recently. “It was interesting just to see that my style of coaching could work at this level, more validation of what I had been doing.”

Swords and company posted a 3-0 mark in pool play, beating Italy (96-70), Germany (80-61) and Norway (73-65), before dropping an 82-80 heart-breaker to Team Ukraine, who would move on to claim silver.

“This came together really quick, we only had four practices before playing our first exhibition game,” said Swords. “The biggest adjustment for us with the international game is that it's bigger, players are just bigger. Germany had a 6' 7” starting point guard – and they went up from there. Even the Ukraine had three to four really big guys on the floor, at all times.”

“Going in, we knew that our quickness, our athleticism with our guard skill, would be our strength - and I liked our bigs. I liked the dynamic they brought to the table, in terms of being able to shoot from the outside. Then, it was adjusting to what options we were looking for, even changing the options that we looked for, spacing the floor a little bit better so the options were more evident.”

“It was a matter of trying to impose our style when we game-planned every game, which is kind of what we do here at Laurentian, so that helped,” summarized Swords.

Even the loss to the Ukraine that prevented Canada from earning a top four finish contained far more good than bad. “I don't think that we were over-confident,” said Swords. “We knew our style and believed that if we played our style, we would be OK. It was going that way, until half – we were up by five.”

“They came out in the third quarter and we just couldn't get them off. It took us a while to stop the bleeding, so we chased the game in the fourth quarter.”

The disappointment of that loss, however, is offset against another set of wonderful memories, as Swords and his team enjoyed a brief stop-over in Finland, site of their pre-tournament games, as well as taking a few days to enjoy Italy, with a de facto team bonding trip to the Isle of Capri.

“I would like to say that I will always answer the call if the national team calls me to do something,” said Swords. “But my kids are getting older, and it's noticeable when I am gone for three to four weeks. Every time I go, I learn a ton, basketball-wise, but I do have to be a little more selective about my time away.”

The reality is that Swords, along with his wife, Shelley, as well as their girls (Syla and Savannah), are now thoroughly immersed in the local community, both via basketball, and other wise. As much as he enjoys his time with his Voyageur crew, Swords is thankful for the opportunities to take in his daughters in action.

“I love just going to watch them play,” he said. “I don't yell at the refs. I basically have a smile on my face, the whole time, just watching them play.”

That might not always be the case when his varsity team is in action at the Ben Avery Gym. But even as the fate of his two-time U Sport Player of the Year (Kadre Gray) remains undecided, Swords rekindles that excitement that occurs with the start of the season less than two months away.

“If he (Gray) gets a contract that we both like and that's good for him, then he'll probably take it,” explained Swords. “If not, he'll come back and finish his fourth year. It doesn't change a lot of my style. If he comes back, we always want to change his style, make his game better. I think we try and do that every year, improve his game.”

Blessed with another very solid recruiting class, Swords is looking forward to 2019-2020. “A lot of it comes back to how much the guys put into it during the summer,” he said. “Who has added to their game, who can we depend on to give a little more.”

“I kind of just go in, every year, and try and improve these players as students, as people, and hopefully by the end of the year, we're a better team that we were at the start of the year.”

And if that cycle of basketball continues, year after year, in Sudbury for Shawn Swords, he's just fine with that as well.

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