Just because a guy can dunk or sink a 26-footer doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a hug sometimes.
When the lights dim in the Smith Center on game days, the men’s basketball team begins a ritual: The bench players line up, facing each other, to form a tunnel. Closest to the bench, freshman guard Jordan Roland stands opposite freshman forward Collin Goss. Graduate student guard Alex Mitola stands next to Roland, facing redshirt junior guard Matt Hart. Furthest out onto the court, sophomore guard Paul Jorgensen stands opposite sophomore forward Matt Cimino.
The starting lineup is announced and each player runs out through the tunnel, slapping hands on either side. At the end of the tunnel, each and every game, stands sophomore forward Anthony Swan.
When each starter reaches the end of the tunnel, Swan’s arms open up and the two players hug it out. Swan might throw in a handshake or an encouraging word to send off each man. It’s not a job he put a ton of thought into when he started doing it, but it’s become part of the game day routine.
“Last year when I was a freshman nobody was really at the end of the tunnel,” Swan said. “So I said I’ll do it, and nobody said no.”
“Ever since then it’s been my spot,” he added.
“And now, it’s time to get on your feet! Let’s meet the starting lineup for your George Washington Colonials!”
“At forward, a six-eight sophomore studying pre-arts and sciences from Kagawa, Japan, No. 12, Yuta Watanabe! At forward, a six-nine junior majoring in economics, from Syracuse, New York, No. 34, Tyler Cavanaugh! At center, a six-ten senior majoring in sociology from Copenhagen, Denmark, No. 21, Kevin Larsen! At guard, a six-one senior studying organizational sciences from Lorton, Virginia, No. 22 Joe McDonald! And at guard, a six-six senior majoring in sport, event and hospitality management, from Mar del Plata, Argentina, No. 13, Patricio Garino!”
The starting five heads to the court and huddles up. Swan knows his words are the last his teammates have heard, so he enjoys the chance to pick them carefully.
“Just to be the last one to kind of dap them up before the starting five heads out and gets ready, you know, say a little something in their ear before they get out there like, ‘Start off strong’ or something like that,” Swan said. “It’s kind of my way of getting a little bit more into the action than just going out there and playing. I can actually be more of a support system, and I can help them out and just say something to boost their morale before they get in the game.”
The morale boost works, according to Swan’s teammates. Basketball players need love too.
“I like it,” senior forward Kevin Larsen said. “Anthony’s a good guy. He always says something nice so it gives a little more extra confidence and comfort going out there. It’s nice. I think he’s the right person for the job. That’s why we haven’t chased him out yet.”
Swan was ‘the hug guy’ for the first time in the exhibition game against Gannon last year at the start of the season. He’s stayed ever since, except for one game this year when he didn’t want to get so near his teammates because he was sick. Otherwise, before each tip, Swan is ready to go.
The team has many routines. Swan sits in the same spot for every bus ride: fourth row up, across from Yuta Watanabe on his right side with Paul Jorgensen in front of him and Tyler Cavanaugh behind him. Everybody stays in the same spots every time.
“That’s just how we operate,” Swan said. “From the same spots in lineups before we come out to the same seats on the bus or the same seats in film on the couch. It’s something we stay consistent with. It’s just uniform. We don’t really switch it up. Like they say, if it ain’t broke.”
He does switch things up now and again, though. Swan and Joe McDonald have a handshake that they do off the court. They tried to do it once after McDonald came through the tunnel but didn’t have enough time.
Swan also said he’ll probably pass on the hugger’s mantle to a younger teammate, if one steps up to the challenge, that is. He said he thinks freshman Jordan Roland would be a good guy for the job.
“He’s got long arms so he can really get the hug down,” Swan said. “We’ll see. If somebody is willing to step up and take the spot, if somebody shows that they want to go ahead and do it they can most definitely have it. I’ll pass it on.”
Roland was the one who filled in for Swan when he was sick, but Roland’s letting Swan stick with the top-of-the-tunnel duties for the time being.
That’s fine by Swan. Any good hug requires enthusiasm.
“I feel like it’s very important,” Swan said. “I actually just asked MoJo [assistant coach Maurice Joseph], who was it before me and he said “I don’t think there was anybody” and so just to have a routine is kind of cool.”
“They appreciate it,” he added, smiling. “You can feel it.”