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After three years at Villanova, Cole Swider will be on the other bench when the Wildcats face Syracuse at MSG

Swider, a senior, played in 77 games with 17 starts for the Wildcats in three seasons. Now a starter for the Orange, he said he learned a lot at 'Nova and that it helped him become a better person.

Indiana forward Race Thompson (left) and Syracuse forward Cole Swider fight for a rebound on Nov. 30.
Indiana forward Race Thompson (left) and Syracuse forward Cole Swider fight for a rebound on Nov. 30.Read moreAdrian Kraus / AP

After three years of playing for Villanova, Cole Swider admits that “it’s going to be weird” competing for the Wildcats’ opponent – Syracuse – in the second game of Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

Swider, now a 6-foot-9 senior and starter for the Orange, learned a lot in his time on the Main Line, developing the habits on the offensive and defensive ends as taught by coach Jay Wright and his staff, and experiencing the type of preparation needed to play at the highest level possible.

However, another big step taken by Swider at Villanova took place off the court at the start of his sophomore year. After committing to the program as a four-star recruit, he did not play much in his freshman season and missed 12 games after suffering a fractured bone in his right (shooting) hand.

Going through what he termed “a lot of basketball anxiety,” Swider spoke with the Rev. Rob Hagan, a senior associate athletic director and chaplain for men’s basketball, about developing other aspects of his life.

“That was nothing that really had anything to do with Villanova,” Swider said Monday before leaving the campus for the trip to New York. “That was just, I think, me maturing as a person, me coming to college. I talked to Father Rob about the pressures of being a college basketball player and being a top-40 recruit and everything like that.

“I sat down with him for about two hours in his office and we just talked about developing my faith and trying to be more than a basketball player. I think I identified myself as a basketball player before that meeting, and then after that I was in a good position just to develop myself in other aspects of my life, being a student, trying to be a better family man and trying just to be a better person overall.”

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Swider, who played in 77 games with 17 starts at Villanova and averaged 5.3 points, entered the NCAA transfer portal shortly after the Wildcats’ loss to Baylor on March 27 in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

He said transferring was a difficult decision but one that he thought was necessary. He felt Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels were returning for a fifth year and that “it kind of helped me make my decision of trying to find a new home.”

“We won a lot of games at Villanova,” he said. “I was around a lot of great people like Father Rob, like Coach Wright, like all the assistants and my teammates. But I think [Syracuse] was just the next phase of my development and I couldn’t be more happy and blessed to be here.”

Swider had been recruited by Syracuse out of St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, R.I., and developed a good relationship with coach Jim Boeheim and assistant coach Gerry McNamara. The coaches contacted him right after he entered the portal, and the entire transfer process took three days, he said.

Swider leads the Orange (5-3) in rebounding at 6.9 per game and is the team’s fourth-leading scorer with a 13.1-point average. He was a career 36% three-point shooter at Villanova, but his numbers from beyond the arc aren’t up to his standards, currently 28.6%. He has been strong at the defensive end, averaging 1.6 steals.

“Everyone here kind of knew just by his growth that wherever he was going to be this year, he was going to be really good,” Wright said. “I do think Syracuse is a good fit. We still wish he was here, but it is a good fit. And he’s playing extremely well. But he’s just become a complete player.”

Swider, whose sister Kylie is a sophomore on the Wildcats women’s basketball team, said he still is in contact with his former Villanova teammates and watches their games whenever he can.

“I’m still really close to those guys,” he said. “I think the NBA guys did a great job of showing me that they keep in touch with the coaches and everything like that. I think we developed a great bond that’s bigger than basketball, so I keep in touch with them, and they reach out to me sometimes as well.”

Swider said he is excited to take on his old team at the Garden, where he played five games in a ‘Nova jersey.

“It means a lot to me that we get to play this game, and obviously there’s not a better place in the world to play this game at,” he said. “So I’m excited but obviously I’m focused on trying to win this game as they are, too.”