MEN’S BASKETBALL: Azar Swain will set another major program record at March Madness: career appearances
Guard Azar Swain ’22, who already holds Yale’s record for career three-pointers, will set a new mark for the most career games played in the modern era of Yale men’s basketball.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
MILWAUKEE — Yale men’s basketball guard Azar Swain ’22 enters March Madness as the Bulldogs’ all-time leading three-point scorer in the record books and their go-to offensive option on the court.
On Friday, when the No. 14 Bulldogs take on No. 3 Purdue, he will top another major statistical category with the most recorded appearances in a Yale career: 121 games.
Yale played its first game of basketball in December 1895 — it won on the road at the Waterbury, Connecticut YMCA — and never had anyone play 120 career games for the Blue and White until two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears ’16. Two games at Ivy Madness last weekend tied Swain and Sears at 120 appearances. When the guard starts his 31st contest of the season Friday afternoon at the Fiserv Forum, he will hold the new program best.
“That’s probably the coolest record I can kind of brag about just because the time flies by,” Swain said during a press conference in Milwaukee on Thursday. “I’m a veteran now, I’m the one with all the experience and stuff like that. It really doesn’t feel like that still.
“Within me, I still feel like I’m, you know, an 18-year-old with a lot of time left in my career here,” Swain added. “Obviously, that’s not the case, and I’m just thankful to have stayed healthy and be able to have the opportunity to play in games from [Yale head] coach [James] Jones.”
According to Sports Reference, Yale’s top ten leaders in career appearances have all played for the Bulldogs since Jones took over the program in 1999. In order, they are Swain, Sears, Austin Morgan ’13, Brandon Sherrod ’16, Blake Reynolds ’19, Edwin Draughan ’05, Matt Minoff ’04, Paul Vitelli ’04, Porter Braswell ’11, Anthony Dallier ’17, Javier Duren ’15 and Travis Pinick ’09, who all played between 111 and 120 games in their Yale career.
Complete records have only been maintained since the mid-1940s on Sports Reference, meaning that Swain will hold the program’s appearance record in the modern era. The lack of statistics from the first decade of the 1900s, for example, means that some talented, forever-anonymous Yalie may hold an edge no one will ever learn about.
Swain has missed only one game in his college career: a January 2020 tuneup against Division III opponent Johnson & Wales before the Elis began Ivy League play. An ankle injury he sustained the day before Yale’s previous game at North Carolina kept him out of the contest. At the time, Jones said he would have likely played if the game had been an Ivy League one.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter said Swain would be a threat right when he stepped on the court Friday.
“A lot of times, guys who can shoot the ball, there’s something where they can’t do it,” Painter said. “If you make them dribble, if you make them go one way or the other, now their percentages really drop. With him, he can do all of it in terms of scoring the basketball. So you really want to be able to take up his space and make it hard for him like you would any other scorer or shooter.”
Swain’s impending record is a testament to not only his skill — Swain appeared in all 31 of Yale’s games as a first year in 2017-18 — but also his durability. He began consistently starting in games as a junior in 2019-20 after coming off the bench during his first two seasons.
Jones has often been asked to describe Swain or comment on one of his scoring performances this season. The key message in each response usually revolves around toughness.
“Everything he does is tough,” Jones said after Swain scored 23 points during Yale’s Ivy Madness championship win last weekend. “Two years ago, we played [North] Carolina and we played Penn State. He turned his ankle in the practice before both games to the point where he didn’t go through walkthrough for either game. And he went out and gave both of those teams like 20 [points]. It’s just amazing — and you never would’ve known he had an ankle problem.”
At his March Madness press conference on Thursday, the coach said Swain was “just a tough nut.”
“He is the best player in the entire country that can’t dunk a basketball,” Jones said. “And he never met a shot he didn’t like. His shot selection has gotten better here over the last couple games, which makes his coach happy, but he’ll shoot from anywhere. He’s fairly accurate in terms of doing that.”
Swain has averaged a team-best 19.2 points per game for Yale this season.