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June 26, 2011

Outstanding Male Athlete Award goes to buzzer-beater Zac Swansey

Read more: Herald Citizen - TTU MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR Swansey a complete player

Story written by Thomas Corhern
Cookeville Herald-Citizen

COOKEVILLE -- As the seconds ticked down for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team, Zac Swansey was always there.

If the Golden Eagles needed a big shot, the Tech junior guard was the one who would take it.

With ice water in his veins, Swansey came through countless times, helping the Golden Eagles reach the championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in Nashville.

But hitting the big shot wasn't all Swansey was known for as his ballhandling skills, defensive efforts and unselfish play made him one of the elite players in the conference.

That total package was the biggest reason Swansey was selected as this year's Tennessee Tech Athletics Male Athlete of the Year.

Swansey beat a strong candidate pool for the award -- Tim Benford (football), Alex Chen (tennis), Casanova Donaldson (baseball), Josh Girling (tennis), Marty Jones (football), Kevin Murphy (basketball), Chad Oberacker (baseball) and Kelechi Ordu (football).

"It's a great honor," Swansey said. "There are some great athletes at Tech in every sport and to be a nominee with the other eight guys was an honor. To come out on top, it's a great achievement."

Swansey is the third men's basketball player to take the honor, joining Greg Bibb (1995) and Willie Jenkins (2004, 2005).

"That's awesome for Zac," said Tech men's basketball coach Steve Payne. "He's definitely deserving. What he's done for our team on and off the floor, his unselfishness, his role on our campus -- he just does a great job representing our basketball program."

After sitting out a year after transferring from the University of Georgia, Swansey immediately started to make an impact for the Golden Eagles. Swansey was a true floor general, taking command on the court and averaging 32.8 minutes of time per game.

"When Coach (Mike) Sutton recruited me, that's what he was looking for," Swansey said. "I told him that was what I was going to do. My number one goal on this team is to win, and, second, to make my teammates better. If I'm doing my job, I think we're a tough team to handle."

Payne added, "His willingness to be a team player had a huge impact on our program. With his willingness to do the little things -- he was at the top of the league in steals and assists -- and the willingness to shoulder a lot of the heavy lifting, that's what made him a really special player for us."

Swansey ended the season ranked seventh in all of Division I basketball in assists per game (6.4), was 27th in steals per game (2.1) and 128th in assist-turnover ratio. He was the Golden Eagles' second-highest scorer as well, averaging 9.7 points a game, and had 13 double-doubles this season. From the field, Swansey shot .418 and .360 from beyond the arc. At the foul line, Swansey hit .760.

His success with dishing out the ball was especially evident with five games with double digits in assists. Through the season, Swansey played unselfishly, setting up a lot of great plays for his teammates.

"That's been my mindset ever since I've been playing the game," Swansey said. "I've got a great bunch of teammates with me, and they helped me do what I've been able to do. Kevin Murphy, I want to congratulate him for being a fellow nominee -- he was well-deserving of the award as well. I've got a great bunch of teammates who have helped me be successful and they deserve a lot of the credit."

But it was clutch shooting that brought him most of his notoriety. On five separate occasions this past season, Swansey put the final punctuation mark on the contest and hit the game-winning bucket. Eastern Illinois got to feel the burn twice, while Tennessee State and Jacksonville State got to see it once.