NEW ORLEANS — For all of his scoring exploits, the toughest move Pat Swilling Jr. has made on the court was walk off.
It’s a decision which has taken Swilling, a former Brother Martin standout, from Saint Joseph’s University to a junior college in Idaho, then to Tulsa, which plays Tulane on Saturday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
In 2010, not long after the son of former Saints Pro Bowl linebacker Pat Swilling led Brother Martin to a 2010 Class 5A state championship, he signed with St. Joseph’s. One of the reasons he chose the school was new teammate Langston Galloway, who prepped at Baton Rouge’s Christian Life Academy. Galloway signed early then convinced Swilling, his AAU teammate, to follow him to the Philadelphia campus.
While Galloway’s game flourished as a freshman — he earned Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team honors — Swilling lasted just 18 games, playing with lesser success before making one of the most difficult decisions of his young life. He had to find a new basketball home, one that fit him.
His journey last season took him to College of Southern Idaho. He then returned to Division I basketball this season at Tulsa. Swilling enters the Conference USA game against Tulane (12-5, 0-2) averaging 9.8 points, third-best for the Golden Hurricane (11-7, 3-1).
As for his friendship with Galloway, Swilling said they stay in contact. Galloway averages 15.3 points a game for Saint Joseph’s.
“He and his family was one of the main reasons why I went to St. Joe’s,” Swilling, a junior, said this week from Tulsa. “When it was time to leave and move on, it was a hard decision. It was hard leaving them, but I had to make the best decision for myself.”
Not that the challenges ended with his transfer. In September, Swilling broke his nonshooting wrist for the second time in as many seasons. While he recovered from surgery, Swilling said he was involved in a car accident in Tulsa where he was rear-ended at a stop light, suffering a concussion. Swilling missed all of the preseason workouts, as well as the first seven games. The injury was the first of his basketball career.
“He’s gone through some hardships this year in terms of injuries. That’s kind of things you can’t control,” Tulsa coach Danny Manning said. “When he came back off his injury, he was instrumental in helping us do some things in terms of winning games.”
In his first game, Swilling tied for a team high with 11 points during a 61-42 win against Missouri State (Dec. 5). He’s also led Tulsa in scoring twice, scoring 19 points during a Dec. 29 loss to Florida State and 18 points during a 48-47 victory at SMU, which included a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left.
On Wednesday against UTEP, Swilling scored a season-low three points on 1-for-4 shooting. Tulsa won 45-42.
The Golden Hurricane has won four of its past five games.
“I don’t really focus on scoring,” he said. “I let the game come to me. Just whatever my team needs me to do to help them win, that’s what I’m going to do. If that means passing the ball, facilitating, playing the decoy or scoring.”
His transition to Tulsa has been eased by a new Louisiana teammate. True freshman Rashad Ray, a point guard, played at O. Perry Walker, making Saturday’s game a double homecoming.
“I think it’s going to be bigger game for me and Pat because we’re from New Orleans,” said Ray, who is averaging 6.9 points.
“I think it should be a big game for us, but we’re going to stay calm, not take it overboard and try and play a good game.”
That’s all Swilling has ever wanted to do.