When he arrived on Indiana’s campus a week before the start of the fall semester, Freddie McSwain was fighting against time.
He missed all of IU’s summer workouts while tending to academic requirements at his former junior college. Then, shortly after getting to Bloomington, McSwain needed knee surgery to clean up issues that had bothered him in the past. It was, admittedly, a frustrating time for the raw, but athletic forward, who signed with Indiana last spring with a resume that included only a handful of years worth of organized basketball experience.
Now, in the waning days of his first Division I season, McSwain feels he’s finding his footing as a contributor the Hoosiers can count on.
“Really, it’s all confidence in myself and my teammates having confidence in me to be out there, just to be the energy guy, rebound (and) just do the little things my teammates need me to do to win the game,” McSwain said.
McSwain, who received his first career start Tuesday at Purdue, understands the role Indiana coach Tom Crean hopes he can fill as a willing and able rebounder who can live on the offensive glass. He’s also shown the capacity to give IU good minutes on the defensive end. Developing comfort has taken time, but McSwain is getting there. He has grabbed five or more rebounds in four out of the past six games
Though his offensive game remains limited — he’s not an advanced shooter, nor is he particularly skilled or sure of himself when he puts the ball on the floor — his abilities as an offensive rebounder have helped IU at times during conference play. For the season, too, McSwain’s offensive rebound percentage of 19.9 is the highest on the team.
The put-back opportunities that come from that skill set have led to trips to the free throw line, where McSwain went 8-for-12 during the month of February.
“I want to see him get more 50-50s,” Crean said last month. “We want to see him be in a position to do even more workhorse things, like draw some charges, things of that nature. I want to see him go up and get some of those big putbacks that he gets in practice. But he does get on the glass and he finds ways to keep possessions alive and he helps us. Then again, it’s a crucial thing because he’s getting fouled. He gets fouled usually when he gets to the board.”
Though McSwain’s development has come along a slow ascent, he’s showing improvement as the season nears its end. That development may have been further accelerated had McSwain not undergone surgery prior to the season. Crean said as recently as a few weeks ago that the junior college product was still not at the level he played at when IU began its recruiting push for the 6-foot-6 forward last spring.
In his final season at Neosho County (Kan.) Community College, McSwain averaged 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 54.2 percent from the field, helping his team to its first-ever appearance in the junior college national tournament.
“He’s a workhorse,” Crean said. “He really works at the game. He works on the court. You can see it sometimes with his quickness and things of that nature. He jumps, but he doesn’t even jump to the level of what he did when we signed him. Hopefully that will continue to get better.”
McSwain says he’s committed to getting there, and if this season has taught him anything, it’s that there is a reward for exercising patience.
“The coaching staff helped me up and (told) me, ‘Just keep pushing, just keep pushing. You’ll get there,'” McSwain said. “Have faith. I’m (grateful) that I’m here.”