Skeeter Swift remembered by friends for talking a good game, playing even better

Joe Avento • Updated Apr 20, 2017 at 6:06 PM

Harley “Skeeter” Swift talked a good game, but he played an even better one. That’s how his friends remembered the former East Tennessee State University basketball star shortly after he died.

Swift, who went on to play in the ABA after achieving great heights at ETSU, died Thursday morning after a brief illness. He was 70.

“I talked to him probably a week ago,” said Gary Scheuerman, who coached Swift on ETSU’s freshman team during the 1965-66 season. “He had a knee replacement, but he was talking about having a get-together.”

Swift will be remembered as a high scoring guard who liked to talk. He was as flamboyant and controversial as he was efficient and effective.

It all made Swift a memorable — some would say bigger-than-life — character.

“He was great basketball player and very self confident,” Scheuerman said. “He believed he could do it and he did it. He liked to talk about what he could do, but he backed up what he said.

“You might call him flamboyant. He believed he was one of the best basketball players East Tennessee State ever had and he really was.”

King University coach George Pitts, who was on Scheuerman’s freshman team with Swift, recalled the first time he ever saw the shooting guard from Alexandria, Virginia.

“I saw him and said there was no way he could play,” said Pitts, also a former state championship-winning coach at Science Hill High School. “I learned mighty quick that he could play. He was the star of the freshman team and I was just another body on it.”

Scheuerman needed to be convinced as well, and he was.

“You didn’t look at him and think he was a basketball player because of his physical stature,” Scheuerman said. “He looked like a guard on the football team. But he could play the game.”

Swift proved he could play the game throughout his ETSU career. Once on the varsity as a sophomore — freshmen were ineligible back then — he began to score more and more.

In three seasons, Swift scored 1,367 points for the Bucs. His scoring average of 21.7 points per game during the 1968-69 season ranks sixth in school history. His career average of 17.99 is also sixth in the ETSU record books.

His 41-point effort against a talented Western Kentucky team in 1968 still stands as one of the best individual performances in school history. Swift also scored 22 points when the Bucs beat No. 5 Florida State in the NCAA tournament to make the Sweet 16 and had 20 in a win over No. 9 Duke.

“The greater the teams, the greater Skeeter played,” Scheuerman said. “Skeeter wasn’t selfish; he’d share the ball. But when you needed a basket in crunch time, you wanted him to have the basketball.”

Swift was the Ohio Valley Conference’s player of the year in 1968 and was a three-time All-OVC selection.

He was taken with the 31st pick in the 1969 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, the same year that team took Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, with the first selection.

Swift chose to play in the ABA instead, spending five seasons and averaging 11.6 points a game with the the New Orleans Buccaneers, Memphis Pros, Pittsburgh Condors, Dallas Chaparrals and San Antonio Spurs. He was a member of the first Spurs team and made 84 percent of his free throws while scoring more than 3,000 points as a pro.

Swift was named a member of the ETSU Hall of Fame and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. A street on ETSU’s campus was named after him in 2013.

He also coached after his playing days, running several high school programs in addition to spending one season as head coach at Liberty University.

“He wouldn’t mind telling me where I was screwing up as a coach, either,” said Pitts, who last spoke to Swift when the two got together before a King game in February. “He’d tell me ‘You can’t do that. You can’t play that way.’

“He really cared about people. He’s a different guy, but he’s a caring guy, I’ll tell you that. I’m sad to hear it but I’m glad that it wasn’t too long ago that I got to see him and talk with him a little bit.”

Scheuerman’s relationship with Swift grew stronger throughout the years.

“I really and truly am in shock right now, about to go into tears,” Scheuerman said. “Anytime we finished talking, he’d say ‘I love you Coach’ and I’d say ‘I love you Skeeter. That’s the kind of relationship we had.”

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