Onward and Upward for Garnet and Their Coach K
Tarble Pavilion will be rocking this weekend with home court energy as the Swarthmore men’s basketball team hosts the Centennial Conference tournament for the third consecutive year. Following a regular season in which they had the conference’s best record at 15-3 (23-3 overall), the Garnet earned the #1 seed and will play Washington College in the second semifinal game on Friday, tipping off at 8 p.m. Winners of the semifinals meet at 7 p.m. Saturday for the conference title game.
Since coach Landry Kosmalski became head coach in 2012, the Swarthmore men’s team has improved its record annually, with 2018-19 standing as the team’s best regular season ever. The coach said that “We’re pretty talented, and that talent is never at odds. Our team is really tight, really unselfish, and that’s allowed us to weather some storms. You have to have guys buy in, and all 15 of ours have bought in entirely.”
The Garnet employ a rotation of nine players, with seven logging 19 to 28 minutes a game. It’s a great rebounding team, pulling 10 more boards per game than opponents, led by Zac O’Dell (8 per game) and Nate Shafer (7.4). The team as a whole shoots 37% from 3-point range, led by Conor Harkins’s extraordinary 43% from beyond the arc. Harkins, O’Dell, Cameron Wiley, and George Visconti all average more than 10 points per game. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the team is its aptitude for sharing the ball: the team averages 16.3 assists per game, 6.3 more than opponents.
Kosmalski himself was a frontcourt player at Davidson College and as a professional in four seasons in Sweden and France. Prior to his arrival at Swarthmore in 2013, he coached at his alma mater, somehow missing the Steph Curry years. Following his pro career, he said, “I was an assistant at Davidson for two years, and in the second, Steph committed. But I went back overseas to coach in Europe, then coached at a high school here, where I was when Davidson coach [Bob] McKillop asked if I wanted to come back. I said yes, then a week later Steph declared early for the draft. So I missed his exact three years at Davidson.”
His success in coaching NCAA Division I post players at Davidson marked Kosmalski as head coach material, and Swarthmore hired him away before the 2012-2013 season. His work on the sidelines and the practice floor is just the tip of the coaching iceberg. When the last buzzer sounds this season, Kosmalski will shift into the mode that he says takes most of his time: recruiting. “It’s the most challenging part of our job. Every day in the offseason, we are recruiting, all over the country, and we end up with like three guys each year. It is very restrictive — we look for good basketball players who are elite students. Even at academic events, 90 to 95% of the kids we meet are still not high enough in academics.”
Under Kosmalski, the Garnet have succeeded remarkably, improving their record each season. With a 22-3 record (so far) this year, the coach is surely on the radar of other college athletic directors looking for an up and coming leader for their basketball programs. Is he taking calls?
No, says Kosmalski. “I used to. I think any young coach thinks, ‘Hey, I’ll do well, and I’ll move,’ but things change, and you figure out you have one of the best jobs in the country. Our kids love it here, the schools are great, we live in town [as do his parents]. And my wife [Lauren] would actually try to kill me if we tried to move.”
After the Centennial Conference tournament comes the NCAA Division III tournament, in which Swarthmore has competed each of the past two years. With a current #6 national ranking in D-III, a bid is all but assured. The Garnet may host one or two additional rounds of the NCAAs, as they did in 2018. But Kosmalski says, “We’re just focused on the conference tournament — you never know what happens after that.”
So OK, let’s focus on this weekend. Semifinal games are Friday at 6 p.m. (Ursinus vs. Johns Hopkins) and 8 p.m. (Swarthmore vs. Washington College). Tickets are $5 each for the Friday semifinals and the 7 p.m. Saturday final ($3 for students age 13-18 and free for Swarthmore students with ID). Be there!