- National Teams
Guest Contribution from Samuel Bennett
A stalwart of the UK game for over 25 years, Bradford Dragons guard Jason Swaine has enjoyed success at every level in England. Now 41, Swaine is still very much a key cog in the Dragons strong start to the season, and counts his own son Eisley as one of his teammates.
Hoopsfix (H): Hi Jason, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. So to start us off, can you tell me a bit about how your career in basketball began?
Jason Swaine (JS): What made me start playing in the first place was my parents’ friends came over from Luxembourg when I was a kid, and we were looking in the paper for something to do, and ended up going to see the Calderdale Explorers play. I saw players like Gary ‘Cat’ Johnson, and I just fell in love with the game.
I started attending some sessions at the local sports centre and from there, I was spotted by a coach called Curtis Xavier, who must have seen something that no one else saw in me, and by the age of 15 I was playing for the Explorers men’s team in Division 3.
H: Now getting back to present day, the Dragons are off to a good start to the season, at the time of writing you have the most potent offense in NBL D1, so what are the keys to your high scoring start?
JS: Well, we’ve got guys who can put the ball in the basket at a very high level, including the bench, so it is hard for anyone to guard us. But I think the main thing is our coach Chris Mellor, over the summer, has put a brilliant game plan together.
For most people, these things start 6 or 7 games ago when we started the season, but for the coach it started as soon as we finished playing last season. People don’t see that. So I think the key would be our preparation, and also the way our coach improves players. We’ve got a lot of guys of all different ages this season, and they’re all showing improvement. I think the coach deserves a lot of credit for that.
H: And would you say coach Mellor, a 3 time NBL Coach of the Year, is one of the best you’ve worked with?
JS: Yeah I would, he’s up there with a few. Nick Nurse is one of the best I’ve played for, and also Laszlo Nemeth (former England coach) was a great coach, and I’d say Chris Mellor is up there with those guys. He’s a good coach, he’s good with people, and he works on a lot of stuff that most people tend to miss. It’s just a bit unfortunate I’ve saved it up until now to play for him, because I feel like I don’t have as much to offer these days as I would have had.
H: You say that you don’t have quite as much to offer, but as captain of the team do you feel like you can use your experience to help the team in other ways, as a leader?
JS: I do agree with that, obviously I’m a lot more experienced that anyone else on the team, but still, I’m 41 years old now, so there are days where I find it a little bit difficult in terms of contributing what I’d like to. My mind sometimes says “I want to take this game over” at certain points, and I just can’t do it all the time anymore.
But I’m still playing 20+ minutes per game, I’m still average double digits, so I’d like to think I’m still contributing to the team. When I start to think that I’m no longer contributing, that’s when I’m gonna stop.
H: You suffered with Plantar Fasciitis for a lot of last season, are you back to 100% now?
JS: Yeah, I’d say so. I got that injury in the first game of last season, and I was basically on one foot for the entire year after that. We had some injuries to other guys, so I decided to keep playing, which looking back probably wasn’t a very smart move, because I was really playing hurt. This season, I feel in a lot better shape, even though I’m a year on. I’m playing pain free and able to run properly again. It was the first serious injury I’ve had in my career though, so I do consider myself quite lucky.
H: And what are your aims with the Dragons for the rest of the season?
JS: We’re gonna be the best team that we can possibly be. Last year we had a bad season, but to me we still have the Coach of the Year and we’re gonna finish where we should finish. It’d be nice to be involved at the top of the table like we are now towards the end of the season, and in my experience if you can put yourself in the top 5 teams or so then anything can happen.
It’s a very open league and that means the margin for error is very narrow, we’ve had two losses already that have come down to the final shot of the game. But it’s a good group of guys and we’re doing it properly, and that is what I really value now.
H: You’re currently playing alongside your own son, Eisley Swaine, with the Dragons. How much does it mean to you to be able to share the court with him?
JS: I’m very privileged and very proud to be playing alongside my son. But that’s another good thing about the set up at Bradford, we’re playing for a coach who just deals with it so when we’re playing or in practice, he’s just another team mate, which is obviously very different to when I spend time with him at home. It’s a privilege in both ways really, as I have full faith in the coach to deal with him as he sees fit.
He’s been playing in this league for over a year now, so it’s not new to him anymore. He makes his own decisions, he’s a smart guy, and he’s got the potential to be very good. He usually responds well to most things anyway, so playing adult basketball at his age (17), and playing very well, is a credit to him really, it’s not much to do with me in that respect.
H: Eisley has represented England at various youth levels, as well as being chosen to play in the Hoopsfix All Star Classic Under-17 game this year and attending the Luol Deng Top 50 camp in the summer. How far do you think he can go in basketball?
JS: Well I’m not sure really, I always think the end result is only the tip of the iceberg. Looking at myself, I didn’t end up being a massively good player, I never played in the NBA, but I’m quite proud that I got the most out of my potential.
Eisley’s got more potential than I had, and if he reaches his potential and gets the most that he can out of himself, that’s all you can ask for really. So I don’t really set specific goals or targets for him.
The Hoopsfix game was great for him, and it’s a great event that you guys put on, especially being from the north and maybe not getting quite as much exposure, it was great for him to play in that and represent the north of England.
H: You’ve been around the game in this country for a long time, do you think the current crop of young players is the best you have seen breaking through in your time?
JS: You’ve got to excuse me a bit now, being 41 I have to look back quite a while! I would say it’s a different culture of players. Basketball is a different game now whether we like it or not, the game changes and the icons change as well with Steph Curry over the last couple of years, and that changes the mind-set of a lot of people in terms of styles of play.
I would say there seems to be loads more talent in young players at the moment than I’ve seen, but will they be that much better at age 20? There’s a lot more distractions and things to side-track young players these days, but I think the potential is there in this country for us to be better than ever, so it’s exciting in that respect.
H: Finally, you’ve had a storied career, playing for England over 20 times and winning lots of accolades with your club teams. What stands out for you as the highlight?
JS: I was really proud of playing against Real Madrid for the Sharks. It was in Madrid and we only lost by 3, and I had a good game. I also played in the 1995 McDonald’s Open, which involved the Houston Rockets, and I played 25 minutes or so which a lot of English players don’t do these days. Those moments I’m really proud of because it was such a high level, but overall I’m just proud of what I got out of myself. When you look back, you don’t want to leave any regrets and I think I got the most out of myself that I could.
Off the court, I’m most proud of my family. I’m a family man now, my son’s a really great kid, my daughter is doing really well and I’m very happy with my wife. Its things like that you take for granted really, but that’s the most important thing.