Saturday, December 6, 2008

Columbus High’s Swanier returns to retire jersey

Before Ketia Swanier played her first game for Connecticut, her AAU coach Mike Green told reporters she was a “wizard with the ball.”

Before she was chosen in the first round of the 2008 WNBA draft, former Orlando coach Carolyn Peck told ESPN that Swanier would be “added value to any team.”

But long before the media took any notice — when Swanier was in middle school — former Columbus High coach Ashley Powell said she saw those same things in the young point guard.

“I saw her play in eighth grade, and I knew I wanted to coach her at Columbus,” Powell said.

“Just watching her, I knew she was a smart, talented player and she would do good things on the court.”

Swanier started four years at Columbus under Powell, leading the Blue Devils to the 2004 state title game before going on to play for UConn and the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

In November, Swanier signed with Rybnik, a team based out of Rybnik, Poland, in the country’s PLKK league.

Swanier is taking a break from pro basketball this week, traveling more than 5,000 miles back to Columbus, where the Blue Devils will retire her No. 21 jersey today before the start of a game against Hardaway.

“It’s always a big accomplishment to have your jersey retired,” Swanier said. “I’ve been trying to find time to do it the last couple years, and I’m very glad it’s finally worked out to where I can come back and do it.”

Play with the boys

Swanier was more than just the best player on the girls team during her tenure at Columbus High. She may have been the best player period, Columbus boys coach Larry Ferrell said.

“I really wish she could have played with the boys team,” Ferrell said. “She was good enough, and I could have used her.”

Swanier made a habit out of warming up against the boys, according to Powell, and typically had something to teach everyone on the court.

Once the game started, her ball-handling skills and shooting were only outshined by her ability to make it from baseline to baseline in seconds.

“Ketia would grab a rebound and then be down the court before anyone else on either team,” Powell said. “She was just so fast it was hard to stop her.”

Swanier led the Blue Devils through the state playoffs and into the 2004 finals against St. Pius. There, Swanier fouled out in the final minutes, and the Blue Devils watched their thin lead evaporate in a heartbreaking loss. The previous November, Swanier had signed with UConn, so she knew her playing days were not over yet.

Powell said there was little doubt among anyone who saw Swanier play that the point guard would go on to the next level.

“Coaches would sit around and say, ‘Where do you think she’s going to go to college,’ ” Powell said. “We never doubted she would play somewhere.”

Fans and coaches hardly were the only ones to notice her high school performances. Swanier was named the Georgia AAAA Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004, and made the all-state first-team roster 2002-04.

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