The question of whether the Louisville Cardinals will replace Terrence Williams’ and Earl Clark’s production is looming large.
Yet the answer is relatively small.
Sophomore forward Jared Swopshire was thrown into the starting small forward role occupied by Williams for four seasons in Louisville’s season-opening game against Arkansas.
Swopshire racked up 11 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes played against the Razorbacks. He was on a roll.
But the production didn’t last.
In the Cardinals’ 69-56 win over East Tennessee State Saturday, Swopshire saw the court for a minute more but pulled down only two rebounds.
East Tennessee presented neither a make-or-break game nor a close contest by any means for Louisville. Still, more than a year into his growth as a college athlete, Swopshire showed signs that he still may be soft.
That’s not a problem for Head Coach Rick Pitino, who defends Swopshire’s generously listed 220-pound frame.
“Sometimes softness is because you are 188 or 190 pounds, you haven’t lifted any weights,” Pitino said last Friday. “I’d rather have a guy that can shoot really well, great skills, willing to pay the price and be a little weak or not really be a real great defensive player, but be able to shoot it.
“You can have great success with those players.”
Only Swopshire didn’t produce in against the Buccaneers in any statistical category. He was 0-for-5 from the field, recording two points on 2-of-2 free-throw shooting.
The 6-8 sophomore may never develop the body of Samardo Samuels, the Cardinals’ featured big man. He may not possess the same on-court personality as Williams had.
And he certainly doesn’t have the same intangibles as Clark, taken in the first round of last summer’s NBA draft after his junior year at Louisville.
But Pitino does see Swopshire as a consistent starter filling in a 225-pound body—one who can rebound like mad.
Pitino said it hasn’t always been that way.
“He wasn’t a good rebounder until this year,” Pitino said. “The knock on Jared when I went out recruiting…great kid with great skills, but really soft.”
It’s now time for Swopshire’s skills to overlap any “soft” left in the sophomore. The Cardinals need his production this season, and they need it consistently.
Without Williams and Clark, guards Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith can dish out the assists. Guard Edgar Sosa and Samuels can tally up the points. Samuels and forward Terrence Jennings can work the boards.
And it’s Swopshire that needs to fill the holes, put in good minutes, and provide an occasional breakout performance—just as he did against Arkansas.
Because in Big East play, it’s a loss for Louisville if Swopshire doesn’t answer the bell.