Ryan Swan's days of playing a supporting character may be drawing to a close.
For much of his life growing up in Marana, Ariz., the Air Force sophomore center was known as “Jamee’s little brother,” in reference to his older sister who was a top-10 national recruit and earned all-Pac-12 honors as a guard at Colorado.
When he moved to Colorado prior to his junior year, the first person Swan befriended was De’Ron Davis. Davis would go on to become the state’s top basketball recruit and last year appeared in every game as a freshman at Indiana.
Playing in Davis’ shadow was fine with Swan, who averaged 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds over two years for an Overland program in Aurora that twice made the 5A Final Four and captured the title his senior season.
After a year at the Air Force prep school, Swan sat most of his freshman season with the Falcons because of academic issues and then played sparingly behind starter Frank Toohey.
That appeared to be the plan for this season as well, considering Toohey was coming off a junior season in which he averaged 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds.
But Swan changed those plans.
“Frank is a good player,” Swan said. “To be honest I wasn’t expecting to take his spot or be starting by the end of the year.
“I just want the best player to start.”
Air Force inserted Swan into the starting lineup for the first time on Dec. 30 at Fresno State. He scored 13 points. He started again against Nevada and scored 15 points with six rebounds and two blocks.
“He’s finally getting his chance to show that, ‘This is me, I can do this all the time,’” said Lavelle Scottie, a fellow Air Force sophomore who has played with Swan since the prep school. “'I can be consistent.’”
The Falcons haven’t won either games with Swan in the lineup, but their 12-point loss at Fresno and 11-point home setback to Nevada were vast departures from losses to lesser foes New Mexico, Army, UC Riverside and Abilene Christian in which Air Force trailed by as many as 31, 27, 21 and 17 points.
“Ryan Swan has really developed,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “Frank Toohey is the heart and soul of our team. Senior captain; it’s unbelievable what he does. But he’s limited with his size. He’s really 6-6, and he’s going up against 6-7 with girth. Ryan Swan’s a little bit bigger, a little bit thicker and a little more crafty around the rim to score.”
Jonathan DeWane is also factoring into that mix. The 6-foot-10 sophomore enjoyed a breakout 22-point performance in a blowout of Johnson & Wales on Dec. 22 and has carried some of that effectiveness into the first three Mountain West games, hitting 4-of-7 shots in spot duty. One of those buckets was an eye-opening left-handed hook shot for the right-handed player who logged only two years of high school experience before coming to Air Force as a direct-enter freshman last season.
It’s a good, and rare, problem for the Falcons to have on the interior, with two youngsters taking time from a grizzled senior on the strength of their talent.
“The thing I like about our upperclassmen is that they don’t get discouraged if they see someone else starting,” said Scottie, whose 12.3 points per game in conference play leads Air Force, while Swan’s 11.7 ranks second. “They encourage instead of going around sulking. Frank is just coaching (Swan) up.”
For Swan, a lifelong second fiddle, this is uncharted territory.
“Now I’ve been able to get in a groove,” he said. “But it’s nothing special. I like starting, but I’d rather have the best player play, so it really didn’t matter to me.”