Westlake High School

The big miss

What could have been? Swope caught 89 passes last season.
What could have been? Swope caught 89 passes last season.

Good thing they make white-out, because while filling out my Big 12 Media Preseason Football team, I had one Swope, Ryan, occupying the top wide receiver spot.

And then, oops, I remembered Swope is an Aggie and the Aggies are now, surreally, in the Southeastern Conference. I settled on Baylor's Terrance Williams and Oklahoma's Kenny Stills, but neither are better than Swope.

Then, if you so choose, you can remember that Swope grew up a Longhorn fan, tore up 5A competition for years as a running back and returner at Westlake High School -- an All-State back and 25-5A offensive MVP who ran for 1,826 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior -- was not offered a scholarship by Texas and signed with Texas A&M.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

Because what if I told you 11 of the 20 players Texas signed in 2009 either quit, transferred or were kicked off the team before their eligibility expired? Or that the only running back taken, Chris Whaley, has since moved to defensive tackle? Or the only receiver taken, Greg Timmons, never saw the field at Texas and spent the last fall catching passes at East Central Community College.

Meanwhile, Swope has done the following in three seasons:

180 receptions, 2,204 yards, 16 touchdowns.

His 89 catches for 1,207 yards as a junior were both single-season school records. Swope decided to return for his senior season -- more egg in Texas' face, because the Longhorns have only had four receivers drafted to the NFL the last 10 years.

You could look at Swope and divine that he never would have been the same player at Texas. A valid argument considering the problems the Longhorns have had developing receivers recently. However, even primarily playing running back in high school, Swope flashed the tools necessary to play wideout: he placed fifth at the 5A State track meet as a junior with a time of 10.7 in the 100-meter dash, caught 44 balls for 982 yards and 11 touchdowns in two years and spent his sophomore season at free safety, covering wide receivers for State Finalist Westlake.

No way Swope or stud Auburn receiver Emory Blake should have slipped out of Texas' grasp -- and it is considered an embarrassment that a program that prides itself on recruiting overlooked two city stars. This isn't the same thing as not offering Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Luck was a heavy Stanford lean, and RG3's father told me at the NFL draft in April that his son never really considered playing at Texas because he wanted to make his own imprint (and plus, Texas had dialed in on Garrett Gilbert, the best high school quarterback in state history). Luck and Griffin III going No. 1 and No. 2 in the Draft is just kind of bad luck.

But for a kid to grow up bleeding orange, put up major numbers at a power high school 10 miles from campus, get spurned, sign with the rival school, shatter school records and appear on a who's who of the nation's best wide receivers?

It's a great, big mess, and an even bigger miss.  

Kevin Durant, who played at Texas as a freshman, signs a shirt for an atendee of his basketball camp at Westlake High School. While Durant has continued to grow in popularity among NBA fans, he still finds time to hold events like the camp for children.

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

The day he got locked out, the best scorer in the world played knockout with middle schoolers. He even let them win a few games, too.

Oklahoma City Thunder star and former Longhorn Kevin Durant finished up his summer camp circuit Saturday at local Westlake High School, where he interacted with 350 campers, ages 7-18, despite the storm cloud that’s hanging over the NBA.

“When I was young I wanted to come around and interact with NBA players, and I didn’t get to do that,” Durant said. “So I wanted to do that for the younger kids. It’s been successful and hopefully next year it gets bigger.”

Recent draftee Tristan Thompson, incoming point guard Myck Kabongo and former Longhorn Justin Mason stopped by to check out the camp.

“It’s such a great thing to do,” Kabongo said. “He’s such a down-to-earth guy.”

The inaugural, two-day Austin camp was just another stop in what has been a busy summer. In May, Durant led the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. He hosted camps Wednesday and Thursday in Oklahoma City and next week he will go to China for a promotional tour with Nike. On Friday at 12:01 a.m., the first NBA lockout since 1998 officially began.

Through all the drills, games, photographs and motivational speeches, Durant kept a grin on his face despite the fact that his next season will be on indefinite hold. With the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association are at odds and determined to not sign off on any new agreements until each side has their way. Local media weren’t the only ones asking how he felt about having his job on hold.

“Some little kid asked me about the lockout, I didn’t think that was coming,” he said. “That shows how much kids watch and respect the game. I know when I was that age, I wouldn’t have even known what a lockout was.”

His answer?

“I told him that we’ll be playing games at the regularly scheduled time, and he understood.”

He remains wholly optimistic, admitting that he is a bit worried but positive that the two sides can come to an agreement, and he is determined to stay in game shape even if he doesn’t play another game until January.

“I’m always motivated to be a better player,” Durant said. “There’s so many great players in this league that if you slack off for even a few weeks, somebody can catch up. It’s easy for me to work on my game — it’s second nature.”

Durant — who Texas head coach Rick Barnes calls a “once-in-a-lifetime guy” — also wears the hat of the Thunder’s representative to the National Basketball Players Association, and says players will not back down.

“The owners are staying together, but the players are too and there are more players in the league,” he said.

He could be facing a summer and a fall without a paycheck — all bets are he’ll be OK nonetheless — but his camp made sure families didn’t have to break the bank. Total costs were $200, which is about $500 less than camps hosted by other NBA stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — and, unlike James, Durant made sure not to bowl over any kids during knockout. Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin were given scholarships, and everybody made off with some pretty cool SWAG — a camp T-shirt and a Durant-autographed team photo.

“I just want kids to have fun, I’m not worried about the price,” he said. “I just want to show them how much I love the game.”

A camper in the OKC camp even returned the favor, bluntly offering the two-time scoring champ some pointers.

“The kid was like, ‘I really don’t like you, I really don’t like your game,’” Durant said, laughing. “He said that I could post up a little more and that I could work on my jump shot. Actually, I took it all to heart.”

No such criticism was heard in Austin, though some campers were delighted to beat Durant in knockout and other shooting drills.

“The kids do a great job of hitting shots under pressure,” he said. “Once it’s my turn, I start to sweat a little bit, and I missed some shots to lose the game. But it’s all in good fun.”

It took a little bit longer to get over a previous defeat, the Thunder’s loss to eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.

“I was upset for a while, it hurt,” said Durant, who averaged 28.6 points a game in the postseason. “We had a chance to be at the top of the mountain. But sometimes we gotta go through those tough times to get where we want to be.”

The last session of Friday’s camp hadn’t been over for 15 minutes, and Durant was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t eating pizza in the lounge. He wasn’t in escort back to his hotel. He wasn’t running away from swarms of autograph-seeking kids.
He was instead spotted at the nearby track, doing conditioning drills in the 100-degree heat.

“No matter when or where, Kevin gets some work in whenever he can,” said Charlie Bell, like a brother to Durant and a member of his traveling posse. “He pushes himself everyday, even at camp.”