Colorado forward Jamee Swan thriving in new role as bench-contributor

Byron Hetzler | USA TODAY Sports Images
Swan is averaging 14.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg.

BOULDER, Colorado — Jamee Swan is able to laugh about her emotional swings now because she seems to be getting them under control and it’s showing up in the box score for Colorado.

It hasn’t quite translated to Swan leading her team to more victories in the Pac-12 Conference, but she’s evolving midway through her junior season.

Swan has led the Buffs in scoring in four consecutive games, despite recently going from starter to coming off the bench for coach Linda Lappe.

Around the holidays while thinking about her team, Lappe kept coming back to the reality she wasn’t getting much of a spark from the bench when she needed to substitute for her starters. She decided the best remedy might be to change the starting lineup, not as punishment for anyone, but as a way to help the team.

Swan coming off the bench made sense because it’s a role she played earlier in her career and her competitiveness would provide a lift. Swan says she actually likes coming off the bench.

“It gives me a chip on my shoulder because it’s like, ‘OK, my teammates just went out there and did what they needed to do. I can’t let them down,’ ” she said.

During her freshman and sophomore seasons, Swan often provided moments on the court that dazzled, but she too often seemed to follow them up with five minutes of uninspired play. Perhaps she’d score in double figures with a half-dozen rebounds and a few blocked shots one night to give fans, her coaches and teammates a taste of her real ability, but the next time out there would be five points in the line next to her name and no real reason to remember her that day.

That hasn’t completely changed this season, but she has been much more consistent in her third season at the college level. She credits senior point guard Lexy Kresl and assistant coach Jenni Benningfield for keeping her focused and helping her avoid what she called “the roller-coaster rides” she used to experience by allowing herself to get too high and too low based on what was happening in the game.

“I think sometimes it’s really good and other times it’s like, ‘What are you doing? You need to calm down,’ ” Swan said of how her emotions help and hurt her. “I think it just depends on the kind of emotion. If it’s a negative and I’m mad, that’s not good. But if it’s a positive and up, it’s good. It’s really hard to explain. I’m a very complex person.”

When Swan came out of Marana High School in Tucson, Arizona, in 2012, she was rated as the eighth best forward in the nation and the 38th best player overall by ESPN. She is beginning to reach that potential now.

It gives me a chip on my shoulder because it’s like, ‘OK, my teammates just went out there and did what they needed to do. I can’t let them down.’
— Jamee Swan

Swan is making nearly 50 percent of her shots. She is tied for the team lead in scoring at 14.1 points per game with senior forward Jen Reese and Swan leads the Buffs with 8.1 rebounds per game.

Benningfield said Swan is starting to understand the “why” behind what coaches are telling her. She said Swan is more often than not playing full games free of those moments when she checks out for a possession or two. She said Swan has started to realize she can’t control everything.

“She is becoming more and more mature on the court,” Benningfield said. “The game of basketball is very emotional. It has its ups and it has its downs, and it can happen within two seconds. You can make a great play and then turn the ball over, and how you react and how you take those emotions, she is learning to really use it for all positive and using it to her advantage.”

Swan said she doesn’t feel like the Buffs are in any kind of a rut. She said the team still believes it can win a lot of games in the Pac-12 and be a factor in the conference race, but it does need to get a grip on slow starts and periods of inconsistency.

During CU’s recent road trip to play Stanford and Cal, those lapses were on display. The Buffs started slowly against Stanford but held their own with the perennial national power until a point midway through the second half when the Cardinal made a run and the Buffs didn’t match it. At Cal, the Buffs fell apart early in the second half and never recovered.

“I think we need to come out faster,” Swan said. “We always talk about coming out slow and not throwing the first punch, and I think we need to learn how to throw the first punch and continue and, as coach Lappe says, put our heel on their throat and finish instead of giving them chances to come back like we usually do.”

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