Saluki junior Josh Swan did not know he would soon be trading in his basketball shoes for a clipboard at the beginning of last season.
Swan had surgery on his right knee in August that ultimately ended his basketball career. Head Coach Barry Hinson named Swan an undergraduate assistant coach later in the month.
Director of Basketball Operations Nate Mast knew Swan had the ability to lead the team later in his career.
“We actually saw Josh as one of the younger guys that could evolve as a leader,” Mast said.
Swan is the only player on the roster who was recruited by former Saluki Head Coach Chris Lowry, who is now an assistant coach under another former Saluki Coach, Bruce Weber, at Kansas State University. Swan said he had a close bond with Lowry, who was a vital part in bringing Swan to the university.
“When I was in high school, senior year, he recruited me,” Swan said. “He sold me on the school, the program and everything about the university.”
The Saluki basketball team was successful in the ‘00s when Swan was growing up, as SIU made it to the Sweet 16 in 2007 before falling to the University of Kansas, 61-58. Swan said he was not familiar with the school then.
“I heard of (SIU) a little bit,” Swan said. “I was wondering who was this small team coming out of nowhere.”
Swan only played basketball and football after his sophomore year of high school at Pace Academy in Atlanta, but decided to pursue a life on the court instead of the gridiron.
“I put so much work into basketball,” Swan said. “I had played basketball and trained for basketball year in and year out.”
When Swan spoke to doctors about surgery, they told him the outcome would not be favorable for him.
“Before going into the surgery, I knew they had told me already it was probably going to be a wrap as far as my career was going,” Swan said.
The days leading up to Swan’s surgery were difficult, but he said he relaxed with his family and tried to keep his mind off of it. Swan said the reality of not being able to play again would hit him when he was by himself — he would replay different plays and different career achievements in his mind.
Even after the surgery, Swan said the reality of not being able to play the game he loved had not set in.
“I woke up and it was kind of like, ‘this is real’,” Swan said. “I still tried not to think about it.”
Even with his basketball career over, Swan never considered leaving the university he came to love over the past two years.
“(I) never thought about leaving, I’ve grown to love this place so much, I really like the people here,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine going somewhere else and trying to start over.”
The basketball team is now practicing for the upcoming season, a difficult time for Swan, who said he knows he should be on the court. He is still in the recovery phase of his surgery in August and can only train hard one day a week, he said.
For a person like Swan who has played basketball since the age of four, not being on the court is tough to swallow.
“I’m still in the mood that I’m invincible,” Swan said.
Even though he cannot play, Swan will now join student assistant coach Chase Heins, who injured his knee in 2012.
Mast said basketball staff did not have to think very long about adding Swan to their ranks.
“It was a no-brainer for us, he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a student-athlete,” Mast said. “He does what he’s supposed to, he takes care of his business and goes to class, he has a great rapport with the players.”
Freshman guard Sean O’Brien said Swan is the kind of person students should strive to be like.
“I look up to Josh a lot, he’s a really good role-model and he’s one of our best students,” O’Brien said. “He’s got his life together, anything he’s going to tell me I’m going to make sure I listen.”
Recent junior transfer guard, Mike Balogun, said Swan took him under his wing when he arrived in Carbondale.
“When I met Josh, he became like a brother to me instantly,” Balogun said. “I didn’t know a lot of people out here and he included me in everything we did outside of basketball.”
Swan said he had always considered being a coach, but after college he wants to return to Atlanta and help bring back a foundation he helped with in high school. He said the foundation helps students with school as well as teaching them how to play different sports.
Beyond basketball, family is important to Swan. He said he talks to his brother and sister everyday and his parents almost as often. Swan said his father’s history of military service instilled a hard work ethic in him when he was young.
“All that strictness has built up so now he doesn’t have to be as strict on me because I’m strict on myself,” Swan said. “He kind of created inner discipline.”
Despite Swan’s immediate family being many hours away, he said he has a family here as well.
Swan said some things in life happen for a reason and they cannot be changed. He is glad to still be a part of the program and able to help out; however, there is one thing he has not adjusted to yet.
“The only major difference is sometimes they call me Coach Swan instead of Josh,” Swan said. “It’s still very weird even when Coach Hinson calls me coach and tells me to come over, it still hasn’t really set in with me yet,” Swan said.