With help from dad, Brockton's Azar Swain a shooting star on Yale's men's basketball team

·10 min read

PROVIDENCE – Azar Swain awoke to his phone going off at 5:34 in the morning last Sunday.

Swain immediately knew who the incoming text was from, with a specific ringer indicating that the sender was his father, LaWan. It was a brief and pointed message from LaWan, letting his son know it was time to get up and get to the gym.

It hadn’t even been 24 hours since the Brockton native and senior guard for the Yale University men’s basketball team had gone through a substandard showing against Cornell, hitting 4-of-14 shots for 12 points, his third-lowest scoring output of the season.

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With that performance fresh in his mind, Swain heeded his father’s advice and made his way to the gym. Once there, Swain didn’t just go through the motions, getting up 500 three-pointers with the shooting machine serving as his rebounder.

Brockton native Azar Swain became Yale's all-time record holder for 3-pointers made this season.
Brockton native Azar Swain became Yale's all-time record holder for 3-pointers made this season.

That push from Swain’s dad has always been there as the two have an unquestioned devotion to Swain’s craft, in particular focusing on the intricate details of his shot mechanics, which has transformed Swain not only into the Ivy League’s top scorer, but one of the best shooters to have ever come through Yale.

“That obsession and critique of my game really comes from my dad and what he’s instilled in me,” Swain said. “That’s a shared obsession between me and him that we’ve grown.”

Swain recalls at an early age heading to parks with his father in search of an outdoor court to begin cultivating his skill set. Those workouts weren’t always the most joyful, even sometimes producing tears for a young Swain, but it laid a strong foundation.

Swain can remember the difficulty he had trying to learn how to dribble the ball through his legs in a driving rainstorm. Despite the adverse weather conditions, LaWan was as unrelenting as the rain, not letting his son leave until he got the hang of it.

The workouts Swain and LaWan go through now are much drier, but haven’t lost their intensity. The two breakdown Swain’s game, and everything is done with a purpose from fine-tuning Swain's footwork to stressing the fundamentals of his jump shot.

“It’s not the time that other people spend on it when they say they I’m going to the gym to get shots up,” LaWan said. “We really look at the craft of it and his footwork and is his body straight.”

Azar Swain, of Brockton, continues to be a prolific scorer at Yale.
Azar Swain, of Brockton, continues to be a prolific scorer at Yale.

The duo got plenty of practice time together during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the outset of it all, Swain and his father headed back to the same courts where LaWan first taught his son the game of basketball.

Through a basketball connection, the two moved their workouts inside to Next Level Factory in Stoughton, continuing to strive to make improvements in Swain’s play even with the uncertain nature of the college basketball season.

“I can’t really explain how much work has gone into me getting here in this position,” said Swain, who scored 2,185 points during his high school career at The Rivers School in Weston, which ranks 28th all-time in the state’s history. “Just a result of so much time and patience. There’s the first 10,000 hours. I really feel like me and my dad have spent 15 to 20 (thousand hours) critiquing my shot and critiquing my skill set.”

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Swain’s historic senior season was delayed by a year after the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 campaign due to the pandemic.

Swain had already put together a tremendous first three years with the Bulldogs, becoming a key contributor almost as soon as he got to the New Haven, Connecticut, campus.

Swain, the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school, appeared in all of Yale’s 61 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons before making a leap as a junior. That year, Swain entered the record books at Yale for the first time by setting a single-season program record by knocking down 93 three-pointers. The season concluded with Swain earning First Team All-Ivy League honors.

The exceptional play across his career led to even greater achievements this season. In only the fourth game of the season, Swain became the 31st player in the program’s history to score 1,000 career points. He hit the milestone bucket with just under seven minutes remaining in the second half versus Siena as he used a burst of speed to get up court, but threw on the brakes at the top of the key while his defender kept gliding toward the paint before drilling a 3-pointer.

“He’s done a great job at being our leader and doing what it takes to win games,'' said Yale coach James Jones.

Yale senior guard Azar Swain, of Brockton, gets up a shot in a game earlier this season against UMass.
Yale senior guard Azar Swain, of Brockton, gets up a shot in a game earlier this season against UMass.

Two nights after Swain netted a career-high 34 points and knocked down seven 3-pointers in a loss to Iona in the middle of December, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with the pure shooting stroke made sure the record book came out again.

This time, Swain surpassed Ed Petersen’s mark for most career 3-pointers at Yale, doing so against Monmouth. When Swain finally got the record-breaking 3-point shot to fall – he finished 1-of-9 from deep in the contest – midway through the second half from well beyond the arc, he briefly raised his hands up in front of the home crowd.

The quick celebration felt like it was Swain breathing a sigh of relief, but also him beckoning to the haters who thought he might be too undersized to excel at this high of level.

“It means a lot and something similar to reaching 2,000 (points) in high school; it was something I never aimed for,” said Swain, who has now made 239 career 3-pointers. “I never really thought about it until it was right in front of me. It’s just a result of the work that me and my dad have put in. So happy that I could leave my mark on this program.”

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After shooting those hundreds of 3-pointers and refocusing on his shooting form following the loss to Cornell, Swain eyed Monday’s matchup in the Pizzitola Sports Center against Brown as an opportunity to bounce back.

Swain looked for his shot early, getting going when he was fouled on a hard drive and converting the two subsequent free throws. His next two baskets displayed his immense shooting talent. After corralling a deflection in the defensive zone, Swain raced down the court and pulled up in transition for a 3-pointer that went right through the net. Swain’s next 3-point attempt had a higher degree of difficulty with a defender right in his airspace, but it didn’t matter as he sank his shot from the right wing.

The rest of the first half consisted of a few missed shots and turnovers from Swain, but he quickly got into a groove again to begin the second half by knocking down his third 3-pointer. He then showed off his mid-range game by working his way to the foul line and hitting two fallaway jumpers, including getting fouled on one of them.

The 14-point second-half lead Swain helped Yale build dwindled over the final eight minutes with the Bears getting within one, 60-59, with 2:15 left. But then Swain showcased one more skill in his arsenal – on the ensuing possession the 89.2 percent percent free-throw shooter calmly hit a pair from the charity stripe to put the finishing touches on a 66-63 victory.

Swain ended up netting a team-high 22 points, making it the ninth time this season he recorded at least 20 points in a game.

“Honestly, I smoked like two or three open layups in the Cornell game and that kind of took me out of my rhythm early,” Swain said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and win. That was the primary focus coming into this.”

LaWan was in attendance to see his son get back on track against Brown. For LaWan, the best part of Swain’s outing wasn’t the point total, but the joy Swain exhibited on the court.

“I like when his shot is falling because he looks happy,” said the elder Swain.

Senior guard Azar Swain, of Brockton, has put together an illustrious career at Yale.
Senior guard Azar Swain, of Brockton, has put together an illustrious career at Yale.

While it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Swain’s shot and his never-ending range that has him leading the Ivy League with 19.1 points per game, there’s more to his skill set than just that. Jones said Swain’s biggest growth has come on the defensive end and as a one of the leaders for Yale, Swain isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to win.

“He’s one of the toughest kids I have ever coached,” Jones said of Swain, who was recently named to the College Insider Lou Henson Award midseason watch list. The award is given to the top Division I mid-major player in the country.

Swain holds a different perspective now on his workouts with his father. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is currently without them. But Swain’s eyes have been opened up to the life lessons those sessions provide.

For both father and son, it’s more than just getting up shots in an empty gym or a desire to improve, it’s a commitment to one another.

“He holds me accountable and I try to hold myself accountable,” Swain said. “Him being there and so present in my life has meant everything for me as a basketball player and as a human.”

“They mean the world to me,” said LaWan of the workouts. “I tear up a lot just thinking about the young man that he’s come into.”

As for what’s next in Swain’s stellar basketball career, he’s not exactly sure and said it’s a question he’s been “battling with.” He added he will assess his options at the conclusion of the season, fully focused at the moment on doing everything he can for Yale.

Swain doesn’t really want to look into the past, either, at all he has accomplished. Along with garnering several accolades, he has scored over 3,000 points combined in his high school and college careers, an impressive feat.

It’s hard for Swain to put that into perspective, but it didn’t happen by accident, with Swain continuously grinding with his father alongside to get to this point that seemed so far away when the two began this journey together on an outside court no matter the weather.

“I probably won’t appreciate it until it’s really over,” Swain said. “I’m really speechless and I don’t really want to look back on my complete journey until it’s over. In this moment, it truly gives me chills and I feel emotional when I think about how much it took to get here.”

This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Brockton's Azar Swain continues to be on the mark at Yale

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