Jared Swopshire doesn't mind being one of the faces in the crowd, but he's working to one day be the cover boy.
The 6-foot- 7, 2 15-pound Swopshire wasn't the player in the University of Louisville's freshman class who had recruiting analysts in a tizzy. That distinction belonged to Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings.
But as the No. 3 Cardinals prepare for their season opener Saturday against Morehead State, Swopshire could be the biggest surprise on the team.
"He's extremely skilled, what we call a 'triple threat': a guy who can catch, pass and shoot," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "He does all of that, but does it really well for where he's at now."
Swopshire is behind his freshman frontcourt mates physically. Pitino said he will have to get stronger to compete in the Big East Conference. But Swopshire still made an impressive Freedom Hall debut with 21 points and seven rebounds in the Red-White scrimmage. He had 14 points and led the team with 11 rebounds in the Cards' exhibition opener against Georgetown College.
"He does beyond what he's told," U of L senior co-captain Terrence Williams said. "He's going to be a good basketball player."
Swopshire is not the type to feel as if he has arrived.
As a 12-year-old, he achieved national recognition in Sports Illustrated's September 2002 issue. He made the magazine's "Faces in the Crowd" section after he was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Five-Star Junior Basketball Camp in the sixth- through eighth- grade division.
His reaction was muted.
"Back then it was a nice achievement, but at that time my mind was basically set on getting a scholarship to college," Swopshire said. "I mean, it was good, but I had bigger things I was trying to focus on."
Bigger things. At age 12.
Swopshire's father, Teddy, said his son has been serious about basketball since the third grade. Although his dad didn't play college basketball, the Marine veteran taught his son different drills to improve his skills.
Jared Swopshire took a disciplined approach to basketball, keeping updates of his progress in a journal and always ask ing his dad for more.
So it came as no surprise when the eldest of five children left his family and friends in St. Louis to spend his final two years of high school at IMG Academy in Florida.
"It was his decision," Teddy Swopshire said . "If he wasn't mature enough, I wouldn't have let him go."
IMG Academy fed Jared Swopshire a healthy dose of basketball and books. It emphasized core classes athletes need to qualify for college and allowed them unlimited time to focus on their sport of choice.
Swopshire was well on his way to reaching his goal of a college scholarship. But even then he was overshadowed by IMG teammate Kenny Kadji. The 6-foot-10 center, who signed with Florida, was a top- 20 prospect in the Class of 2008.
U of L got involved late, when Swopshire was considering Clemson and Marquette.
"My son (assistant coach Richard Pitino) found him and liked him but said he's a tricky evaluate," Pitino said. "We asked some people, and they were like, 'No, he's not your level.' So he (Richard) disagreed with them and said, 'I need you to go watch him.' "
Pitino said he watched Swopshire play for about half an hour and was convinced.
Pitino described Swopshire and freshman guard Kyle Kuric as throwback players "in terms of their work ethic, their desire, their willingness to put in time on their own."
Swopshire seeks out the coaches with questions on ways he can improve; he even told Richard Pitino to push him harder.
Rick Pitino said that was rare for today's generation of players.
"The reason I came here was to be pushed and, of course get my education, and to get to the next level," Swopshire said. "Coach Pitino can do that, so I feel like if I'm going to be here I should try to get everything I can out of him."