Deja Swinton first caught the attention of local basketball junkies when she was an eighth-grader at Northside Christian. She averaged 11.7 points in helping the Mustangs to a 25-5 record.
Last season, Swinton transferred to St. Petersburg in order to enroll in the school’s construction engineering program. She was the starting point guard for an 11-10 Green Devils team.
This summer, Swinton was on the move again. She said the engineering program wasn’t for her, so she enrolled in Lakewood’s Center for Advanced Technologies program. She is interested in medicine and would like to go to medical school.
There was also another reason for choosing Lakewood.
“They have a great basketball team,” Swinton said.
In a classic case of the rich getting richer, Swinton joins a stable of talented players on the Spartans roster. She will play beside senior guards Alexis Ungro and Sydney Heyward.
She will pass to post players Kasey Drayton, Tianah Alvarado, Clemmeisha Flowers, Aliya Frazer and Siyana Allen. Swinton’s transition was made easier because she has played summer ball with Drayton, Alvarado and Ungro.
And it doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by talent.
“I think I’ve gained confidence,” Swinton said. “Coach Necole (Tunsil) is telling me to get at it, don’t hold back. I think my game has increased because of that.”
Another factor in the transition to Lakewood is her familiarity with Tunsil. Swinton’s mother, Theresa, played against Tunsil in high school when she was at Northeast and Tunsil at Lakewood. After graduation, they played semi-pro ball together in the summer. They also played with St. Petersburg coach and former Pinellas Park player Tamika Coley.
Swinton has been around basketball from an early age, thanks to training sessions with her mother.
“My mom trained me basically since I was 5,” Swinton said. “She used to drill me. I can remember crying sometimes because I couldn’t make the shots. She would say to me, ‘It’s okay, you’re only 6.’ Eventually, I got it.”
Theresa Swinton chuckles when reminded of those training sessions.
“We had some duels at the YMCA at Fossil Park,” Theresa Swinton said. “That’s where it all started. I would drill her for hours. Left hand, then right hand. She couldn’t leave until she made the same moves with the left hand and the right hand.”
So far, that hard work has paid off. Swinton, 5-foot-9, has gotten plenty of playing time in the early season. The Spartans (7-1) have rolled over most teams with lopsided scores like 85-12, 89-23, 64-30 and 87-3.
Tunsil likes what she sees so from Swinton.
“I think a lot of people underestimate her speed,” Tunsil said. “Laterally, she is really, really quick. She also has some power vertically. She has tremendous athleticism. Now we have to get her to think the game more, be a student of the game.”
Tunsil is already envisioning where her newcomer will fit in, and it’s not as part of the crowd.
“We have the pieces of the puzzle,” Tunsil said. “We don’t necessarily have a leader yet. Everything is kind of new for Deja but I would bet by January, Deja steps up to be a leader.
“She’s that kind of player. She puts the work in and I’m going to need her to be that vocal player come January.”