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Giving his all

Swanson wins Toughness Award at Jay Bilas Skills Camp

Submitted Photo Westfield’s Carson Swanson is pictured with Jay Bilas at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp where he was named the recipient of the camp’s Toughness Award.

In his junior season, Westfield’s Carson Swanson emerged as one of the premier talents in Section VI boys basketball, averaging a section-high 28.7 points per game to help lead the Wolverines to the Class C finals, which was a big factor in him earning OBSERVER/Post-Journal Player of the Year and New York State Sportswriters Association first-team all-state.

Even with all of the individual accolades, Swanson is constantly seeking to improve his game as he tries to get back on top of Section VI as a champion and that includes training in the offseason. That schedule includes attending basketball camps. At one, in particular — the Jay Bilas Skills Camp at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina — Swanson left quite an impression.

“They evaluated each player,” Swanson said about the camp, which was held last weekend. “They gave us things we’re good at and told us which things to work on to improve our game.”

There was no shortage of talent and Swanson wasn’t just another participant. In fact, he was the recipient of the Camp Toughness Award, one of three players out of a roster of 150 to be so

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Nolan Swanson said about his son earning that award. “I mean he played well. It’s just nice to see people notice that — who don’t know him — and haven’t seen him before. Actually, my dad (Mel) printed out a Jay Bilas toughness definition — he (Bilas) actually wrote a book on toughness.

Submitted Photo Westfield’s Carson Swanson is pictured with ESPN’s Paul Biancardi, who is in charge of the network’s Top 100 rating for high school prospects.

“He has a thing on ESPN.com about that,” Nolan continued. “So the guy really values that and they only gave out three camp awards, so they gave out a Best Teammate Award, Camp Toughness Award and the Best Communicator Award. Obviously, to be noticed down there is probably kind of hard and also it’s pretty cool that they did.”

“It’s definitely awesome,” Carson added. “I wasn’t really known around there and it was just nice to show off what I can do. They noticed that I was hustling for the loose balls, they could tell I was working hard every play and getting back.”

The campers woke up at 7:30 in the morning and would get right into action after breakfast.

First, they would stretch before breaking into drills to get warmed up with flow offense in 5-on-5, 4-on-4, 3-on-3 back and forth. Then, upon returning from lunch, they would work with their 3-on-3 team in an offense and how to move off of it. Then, after dinner, the teams would play 5-on-5 scrimmages.

As for Bilas, it’s not like he just throws his name on the camp, but the former star basketball player at Duke University and current ESPN analyst is heavily involved.

“He’s around the whole time,” Carson said about Bilas. “He’s noticing everything and watching every single player. It’s obviously a lot for him, but he loves it and wants to help us. It’s amazing he would do that for all of us.”

Swanson was not alone at the camp, receiving the camp recommendation from AAU teammate and Williamsville North junior Stash Foster.

“You had to be invited by a player that had been there before,” Nolan said about how Carson got into the camp. “Carson was invited by one of his AAU teammates, Stash Foster from Williamsville North who had been down there last year.”

Foster, Nakyhi Harris from Bishop Timon and Ben Gerstung from Akron were also at the camp, but Swanson was not on their team while competing in the scrimmages. Instead, Swanson was on the camp team that went undefeated. And opposed to playing shooting guard — his high school position — he was running the point.

“We don’t know what’s going to come of that camp or that award,” Nolan said about the recruiting. “We hope, obviously, that he keeps improving and someone latches on to him. He played point guard most of the time down there and he didn’t play shooting guard as much. He was going against kids that go to Sierra Canyon and kids that have offers from Cal and Wake Forest. He was running point guard for the team that didn’t lose a game and it just shows he can play well with good players.”

While being known for his scoring, Swanson showed his ability to run the offense and facilitate his talented teammates. On top of that scrimmage experience, Swanson also worked on skills with the coaches running the camp.

“There were multiple DII and DIII coaches there,” Carson said. “The head coaches of our teams were coaches at colleges and universities around the country, too. I had a coach from Lynchburg and a school in Michigan, which were both Division III coaches.”

If coaches were unaware of Swanson’s talent coming into the camp, they definitely know now, and attending camps of this nature can improve prospects of playing collegiately. It wasn’t just coaches in attendance either, with esteemed talent evaluators there, including ESPN’s Paul Biancardi who is in charge of the network’s Top 100 for high school players.

“He is in charge of the ESPN Top 100 rating,” Nolan said. “Carson is not in there, but he was taking a picture with him at the end of the camp and I asked Paul if he would give him at least one star on his website.”

The camp was not only a tool for Swanson to further his basketball career, but it also was to improve his own game and that of his Westfield teammates.

“This Bilas camp this past weekend and going to something like that out of a small town is not very common,” Nolan said about what this effort will do for Carson’s teammates. “He just got today an invite to the Hoop Group Elite Camp with a bunch of Division I commits already and we’re trying to decide if we’re going to go to that. But to be able to perform at that level it just shows kids what’s attainable. Carson has been a skilled player his whole life. He’s always worked on it, he grew up in the gym with us and he’s been throwing a ball at the hoop since he could hold on to one. It takes a lot more than just jumping into this now, but it is inspiring. It’s actually inspiring for me to see him win an award like that from a Duke guy.”

Putting effort in the offseason has already impacted teammate Zach Maguire who plays with Swanson in AAU.

“The kids that do this AAU stuff they just love basketball,” Nolan said. “They are just willing to put the extra time into it. He has a busy schedule with the other things he does, too, but I’m actually in the car with him and Zach Maguire, who is on Westfield and the Buffalo Titans also. He’s actually talked to one or two schools in New York already. These kids are really going to be better than they were last season. They already are right now.”

It won’t just be looking up to Maguire and Swanson, but the rookies playing varsity basketball with the Wolverines will learn elements taught at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp.

“For our team, we probably need to be better with communication and moving off the ball,” Carson said about what they can bring back to Westfield. “We need to be able to rotate better and cover guys. Communicate to where guys are going, and also on offense we get a little stagnant at times and we need better movement.”

Swanson recognizes how important it is for the younger players to pick up things he has learned to continue the success of Westfield basketball.

“I learned a lot about what it takes to be a teammate and a leader,” Carson said. “Just to bring back to our high school team with communication. What we can do better and how we can do better as a team.”

Preparing for his final season, Westfield’s all-time leading scorer only has one more shot to win another sectional title.

“You have some goals as a team,” Nolan said about next year going for the league and sectional title. “Winning the league, to try and get that, which will be hard because there are some good teams in the league. Then, probably the team that got us last season (Randolph), if we can get another shot at them, it’s going to be a heck of a game and, of course, that’s a team goal.”

Attending and winning the Camp Toughness Award at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp is certainly a great step in the direction of that goal.

“I can play with bigger talent, not just in our area, but in any area,” said Carson of his biggest takeaway from the camp. “I can bring what I learned back here and use it to help our team improve and, hopefully, get success from it.”

Next, Swanson, Maguire and the rest of the Wolverines will both be attending team camp at Penn State Behrend College.

“We have a little bit of turnover with our Westfield team,” Nolan added. “We lost a few seniors, but there are some kids coming up with different skill sets and different sizes so we have to adjust. … With these two working and our summer program, our kids do quite a bit in Westfield and we’ve had good turnout at our open gyms. We’re going to Behrend’s team camp this weekend so we have some games to play down there with our Westfield team, so it’s going to be the first measuring stick with the new kids.”

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