In the NCAA
WHO: Wofford (20-12)
REGION/SEED: Midwest/No. 15
OPPONENT: No. 2 Michigan
WHEN: Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
WHERE: Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis.
WHO: Coastal Carolina (21-12)
REGION/SEED: East/No. 16
OPPONENT: No. 1 Virginia
WHEN: Friday, 9:30 p.m.
WHERE: PNC Center, Raleigh
When John Swinton was a freshman at Wando High School, he went to the North Charleston Coliseum to watch Stephen Curry and Davidson win the Southern Conference basketball tournament, and with it a ticket to March Madness.
And he dreamed.
"I remember wondering what it would be like," said Swinton, now a junior guard at Wofford College.
Swinton and his fellow Wando graduate, freshman Eric Wagenlander, will find out what March Madness is all about Thursday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. There, No. 15 seed Wofford, fresh off its SoCon championship, will take on No. 2 Michigan in the NCAA tournament.
"It feels surreal," Swinton said before the Terriers took a chartered flight from Spartanburg to Milwaukee on Tuesday. "I just feel blessed. It's been a long journey, but definitely worth all the hard work we put in."
Actually, it was a good bet that Swinton and Wagenlander, both 6-2 guards, would make an NCAA tournament appearance sometime during their Wofford careers. After all, Terriers coach Mike Young has now taken his squad to the Big Dance in three of the past five years.
But that the two ex-Warriors, fast friends since middle school, get to experience March Madness together - only a few days after their old team at Wando won its first state championship - makes the journey all the more special.
Swinton was a couple of years ahead of Wagendlander at Wando, where they both played for David Eaton, a 2004 Wofford graduate who played for Young. Swinton's older brother, Trey, played one year of basketball at The Citadel.
"John took me under his wing in middle school and we've been brothers ever since," Wagenlander said. "When we won the (Southern Conference) championship, the students stormed the court and he was the first guy I saw. We ran and hugged each other. We never dreamed of this when we were in middle school."
Swinton, who started four years at Wando, came to Wofford as a walk-on but earned a scholarship this season. He averaged 11.4 minutes per game as the primary backup to starting guards Karl Cochran and Eric Garcia.
In a crucial 71-60 win over Western Carolina on Jan. 20, Swinton came off the bench to score seven points in 11 minutes in relief of a foul-plagued Cochran. That victory started a nine-game win streak that turned around the Terriers' season.
"You know he's going to guard. You know he's going to defend," Young said of Swinton after that game. "He's tough and as bright as anybody in the white (home) jerseys over there. He really helped us tonight. He helped us get out of here with a win."
Wagenlander, who suffered a severe concussion as a sophomore and blew out his knee as a junior at Wando, followed Swinton's walk-on path to Wofford. He's played in only nine games this season, but takes seriously his role on the team.
"I embrace it," said Wagenlander. "It's obviously different than playing big minutes in high school. But to go out there every day and fight to get better with my teammates . I try to bring the intensity every day in practice. I pride myself on being the most energetic guy in practice, on never taking a play off and helping the other guys feed off that."
Wofford's turn on the March Madness stage might not last long. The Terriers are heavy underdogs against Big Ten champ Michigan, which played in the national title game last year.
But these memories will last the two Warriors a lifetime.
"Eric and I never won a state title or a ring at Wando," Swinton said. "But to be able to do this now, it's pretty awesome."
Former Wando players John Swinton (left) and Eric Wagenlander (right) hold the Southern Conference championship trophy won by Wofford. (Photo by Steve Wagenlander)×
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