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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2012

Ex-women’s practice player helps men's team win

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

When guard AJ Mathew left the University of Toledo men’s basketball program last week, coach Tod Kowalczyk and his staff gathered to discuss how to fill the roster spot.

They could pursue a Rocket football player — namely quarterback Austin Dantin — "or ask Brendon if he’d like to join us," Kowalczyk said Tuesday.

Brendon Schwiebert, a fifth-year senior from Patrick Henry, works at Savage Arena and is a member of the Toledo women’s practice squad.

Actually, he was a member.

"I can’t do that anymore," Schwiebert said.

Kowalczyk won’t allow it, not after Tuesday when the independent studies major displayed impressive offensive skills in a 98-58 exhibition win over Siena Heights.

In scoring nine points, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard, who received zero interest from colleges following an unspectacular high school career, established himself as a candidate for playing time once the regular season resumes after Christmas. Kowalczyk scheduled a mid-year exhibition to keep his players sharp after the program was docked four regular season games as part of its punishment for low Academic Progress Rate scores.

In what could shape into an improbable feel-good story, Schwiebert, who knocked down 4 of 6 shots, might slide into the role manned by Mathew, who averaged a shade under five minutes before opting to transfer.

"As crazy as that sounds, as a fifth-year senior in his last semester, he’s only had a few practices, yeah, I think he can," Kowalczyk said. "I felt that from the first practice. He’s a tough kid and he’s got a lot of confidence."

Kowalczyk said he hopes to speak with Dantin, who played his final college football game Saturday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, about joining the team next season.

The son of a successful girls basketball coach at Patrick Henry, Schwiebert built a reputation as a deft shooter practicing against the women’s team. Kowalczyk, an admirer of coach Tricia Cullop, occasionally sits in on practices and came away impressed by Schwiebert’s energy and competitiveness. The coach approached him six days ago with an offer to join the team.

"Obviously I always wanted to," said Schwiebert, who made a 3-pointer and added an assist and a rebound in 18 minutes. "It’s always been a dream of mine."

Added forward Matt Smith, who scored a game-high 18 points, "Schwiebs has been surprising us all. He’s a great player. He always brings good energy. He can knock down shots like we saw tonight."

Former Patrick Henry girls coach Rick Schwiebert, who compiled a 329-163 record in his 22 years at the school, died from endocarditis in his son’s senior year of high school, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart.

"I bet he’s doing backflips right now," said Peggy Schwiebert, who attended the post game news conference to watch her son recount an unlikely evening.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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