Winter 2021 magazine ad

Cole Swider seeking to grow as basketball player, 'man of God' at Syracuse

It didn’t take long for Cole Swider to decide what his destination would be after deciding to transfer this past offseason.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Minutes after his name appeared in the transfer portal, he was talking to Syracuse men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim and assistant Gerry McNamara. He committed to the Orange less than a week later.

A former top-40 recruit, Swider played in 77 games and made 17 starts in three seasons at Villanova. The return of stars Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels for a fifth season made it unlikely his role for the Wildcats would expand, which factored into his decision to get a fresh start elsewhere.

Choosing to leave Villanova meant an opportunity to have more responsibility on another team. However, it also meant leaving his sister, Kylie, who is a member of the Wildcats’ women’s basketball team. His other sister, Courtney, is a junior in high school receiving Division I offers as well.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Cole Swider (@coleswider)

In the end, though, Swider has no doubts about the decision he made.

“Entering the transfer portal was the best decision of my life,” Swider said at a recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting for Syracuse athletes. “I felt like I was renewed. I had a new sense of my identity. I prayed to God and just told Him, ‘Lord, just tell me the best opportunity, the best situation for me to continue my growth not only as a basketball player but as a child of God, a man of God.'”

Syracuse basketball chaplain and FCA director William Payne had asked Swider to share his testimony at the meeting. In doing so, the 22-year-old detailed some of the struggles he went through at Villanova: being convinced other students saw him as a failure, friends from home who stopped texting the moment he was no longer a star, his battles with anxiety and depression.

Swider went to church every week as a kid and studied religion like every Villanova student is required to. But when Sunday rolled around, he would often come up with reasons not to go to the Catholic church across the street from where he lived.

In the midst of his struggles, he reached out to the Wildcats’ team priest for guidance.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to just identify as a basketball player. I want to find something else as to who I am,’” Swider told his fellow FCA members. “’How can I give myself up to the Lord, find something in my faith and grow from there? To identify as something other than my sport, other than the basketball star I was in high school, the guy who was trying to hook up with girls, the guy who was always looking for things to do to be popular.’ I wanted more meaning in life.”

Coming off a season in which he averaged 5.7 points and shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range, Swider is hoping the change of scenery and a system that fits his skillset better will result in a breakout season. Syracuse begins its 2021-22 campaign Tuesday night against Lafayette College.

Swider’s focus is on one thing above all else as he prepares to take the floor with his new team in a competitive game for the first time.

“I’m just trying to follow God’s plan,” Swider told syracuse.com. “Just every single day, not worrying about what’s going on, just trusting His plan, just keeping your head down and working hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to live my life by.”

RELATED STORIES:
— SS PODCAST: Liberty hoops coach Brad Soucie on pain, grief, pushing forward
— SS PODCAST: ORU coach Paul Mills on his team’s Sweet 16 run, glorifying God
— Former Baylor star Jared Butler praises God’s timing despite drop in draft
— Jalen Suggs drafted No. 5 overall by Orlando Magic, says, ‘It was God’s plan’
Hubert Davis takes over as North Carolina coach, aims to be ‘example of Christ’
— Culture of ‘Jesus, Others, Yourself’ leads to Baylor’s 1st men’s national title