Harley "Skeeter" Swift: former sultan of swish

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   If you were at the Covered Bridge Festival in Elizabethton last week and know quite a bit about East Tennessee State basketball, you might've seen a familiar face.
   In the late 1960s, ETSU was one of the top squads in the Ohio Valley Conference, and the one name that stuck out was none other than Harley "Skeeter" Swift.
   Swift, a former professional basketball player, sixth all-time leading scorer in Buccaneer history and former Cyclone basketball coach, sold pork skins with his wife at this year's festival.
   "That was because of my wife," Swift said. "Five years ago she went to Home Depot and came home with a pork skins business. We really enjoy it and we spend a lot of time together. The Covered Bridge is one of our favorite festivals, and it draws a lot of people. There is so much tradition in Elizabethton."
   The Alexandria, Va. native enjoyed his experience coaching the Cyclones before moving to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
   "They hired Hack Hyder at the time and told me that the boys didn't practice and were a bunch of losers," Swift said. "We never had a late practice when I was there and the kids were real good. I never had one minute of heartache out of any kid while I was there.
   "I started Chris Troutman as a freshman and he was as good as I had. He later went to South Carolina to play ball. I had a lot of kids and I went to Oak Hill before Len Dugger took over and brought in some great teams.
   "I was really fortunate to have been around a lot of wonderful people over the years."
   Swift was a part of a stellar program at Oak Hill which won a national championship during his tenure at the school, including the director of athletics position.
   "It was different from Elizabethton, where you build your program from the little leagues," Swift said. "You have more flexibility and can recruit players. It was a different situation, and I drove a 1958 school bus to our games. We played a lot of teams."
   Having several successful campaigns at the professional basketball level, Swift began in the ABA with the New Orleans Buccaneers, continued with the Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors, then had a tour of duty with the San Antonio Spurs, where he was a starter on the original squad and ranks in the top 60 in many all-time categories of ABA play.
   He scored over 3,000 points in his career and ranks as one of the top 10 free-throw shooters in league history.
   Swift recalls playing with several great players, but the memory of a three-point shootout stands out.
   "I played with a number of good players over the years," he said. "We had an old-timers reunion game at San Antonio and I upset Lou Dampier in a double-overtime situation. It was a great franchise, and it was the finest area I've lived in playing pro basketball."
   Swift is pleased to see the success of the Spurs, who are currently playing in the NBA Finals, of today.
   "I'm tickled to death to say that I've played there," he said, "because of (David) Robinson, (Tim) Duncan and what they've done. They are a class act and there's a lot of great people in that franchise."
   A three-time All-OVC player at ETSU who won the conference Player of the Year award in 1968, Swift led the team in scoring three times.
   He has many great memories at the university, including some of the biggest upsets in school history.
   "We beat Tennessee my freshman year down there," Swift said. "In 1968, we won the OVC and went to the Mideast Regional and upset a second-ranked Florida State squad. And during my senior year we went to Cameron and beat No. 2 Duke. As a player and part of a team, those were the three biggest highlights of my college career."
   Swift averaged 21.7 points per game during his senior campaign with the Bucs, scoring 565 points (7th most in school history) during the season while grabbing 121 rebounds.
   He averaged close to 18 points per game throughout his impressive career, and had a 41-point outing against Western Kentucky in 1969.