Men's Basketball
    Jan. 29, 1998

    Shannon Swillis is Trojans Leading Rebounder

    swillis photo
    Shannon Swillis.

    It's rare when a team's leading rebounder is averaging more boards than points -- but Shannon Swillis is just doing his job.

    Through 17 games, the redshirt freshman is among the Pacific-10 Conference's leaders in rebounds (6.4 a game) and blocked shots (1.6) yet is averaging only 4.1 points a game for USC. For the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team candidate, that's all right for now, but he knows his role will change soon.

    "Coming into the season, the coaches gave us our roles and my role was blocking shots and rebounding," said Swillis, who is 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. "If the offense was there, I'd take it, but if it wasn't, I wouldn't take it. As of now, I haven't been taking it.

    "I've had open shots and coach tells me to shoot. It's my fault that I haven't been shooting. I know it's something I can do. It won't be hard to change my role in the future because I scored a lot in high school. I didn't score last year when I was off and I'm not scoring now, so I'll just have to get used to it again."

    His best scoring game came against Tennessee on Dec. 30, when he had 13 points. He's reached double figures in rebounds twice, including 15 against UNLV on Dec. 2, which is a high by a Trojan this season. He also had a team-high six blocked shots against Long Beach State on Dec. 27.

    Swillis, a natural small forward, has been pushed into the post because of USC's injuries and general lack of manpower there. So in his first year while playing out of position, he has had to do battle with seven-footers down low.

    That might make his success in rebounding and blocking shots all the more surprising.

    "It's been a big change going in there to face the big guys," Swillis said. "In high school, there weren't too many players bigger than me. Now I'm playing against guys like (Long Beach State's Andrew) Betts and (Stanford's) Tim Young. That's been a big adjustment.

    "Rebounding and blocking shots are things I know I can do. I didn't come into this season thinking I could contend in the Pac-10. It's just happened that way. With my athletic ability, I feel I can jump with a lot of people in the Pac-10."

    Swillis didn't do much jumping last season as a true freshman. He broke his right foot before the start of the 1996-97 season and was forced to redshirt. But what was first a trying experience might have turned out for the best.

    "It was hard," he said. "I felt like I wasn't part of the team. I was just here going to school. I sat out and did what I had to do and that was to concentrate on this year.

    "But I think it was a lot better that I redshirted. Honestly, I wasn't going to play that much. Coming in, I didn't know how good I was. It was going to be hard to find playing time behind Rodrick Rhodes so I wasn't going to see much time on the floor. But you can't get experience without being on the court. I would have liked that."

    Swillis has gone from no minutes to a lot of minutes. He is averaging 23.6 a game, second best on the team.

    And though he's a freshman in terms of eligibility, Swillis doesn't want to play like one. He spent last season preparing himself for this one.

    "I consider myself a sophomore," he said. "It's my first year playing, but my expectations are higher for myself than that of a true freshman. I had a year to see what college basketball was like and a year to lift weights and get stronger.

    "I've been playing a lot better than I thought I'd play, to be honest. I've been in a slump lately, but that happens. I'm not going to worry about it. I just need to keep doing things to help the team."

    USC Coach Henry Bibby agrees with Swillis' assessment.

    "Shannon Swillis is a great kid and has done everything that we've asked of him," Bibby said. "He can play inside and outside. He's been strong and steady. He's done more than we've asked, especially playing against bigger players. But he needs to work on his outside shot to play small forward for us in the future."

    Away from basketball, Swillis has a good plan for his future. He is a communications major who is interested in a career in advertising.

    "My parents have always been big on academics so we've talked a lot about it," Swillis said. "We looked at the majors here and communications was something I was interested in. I need to improve my public speaking so I've been taking courses.

    "Advertising is a growing field. I decided I might like to make commercials. I've got a good imagination. I've always thought that was one of my strong points, so why not use that as a career?"

    Swillis became a basketball player largely because of his brother Kevin, who is at California. But Kevin, who is two years older, plays football for the Golden Bears, not basketball.

    "He started playing basketball in seventh grade and I went and watched him play all the time," Shannon said. "When I was in seventh grade, I started playing. We played a lot of basketball together. He was recruited as a basketball player by some smaller schools, but he played football for one year and got offered to play at Cal."

    Watching Kevin go through the recruiting process helped Shannon, who starred at Bullard High in Fresno, Calif., when it was his turn.

    "I kept playing basketball and kept improving," Shannon said. "Recruiters started coming for me so I went through the same stuff that he went through. I was at home when he was being recruited and was getting all those phone calls every day, every hour. I knew it was coming so that made it easier for me to deal with. It was an easier adjustment for me, I'm pretty sure, then it was for him."

    Swillis signed with USC during the early-signing period in the fall of 1995 when Charlie Parker was the head coach, though Bibby became the coach later that season.

    With three years left to play at USC, some gifted freshmen already here and other talented recruits coming, Swillis is looking forward to the future.

    "I think we can go far," he said. "With the talent we've got coming in, we'll be complete. Next year we'll do real well and we can start thinking about making the NCAA Tournament."

    -- By Roger Horne, Assistant SID