Zach Swim captained the Napa High School boys basketball team to its first playoff berth since 2005 and first league title since 1991 and a 23-6 record en route to winning Vine Valley Athletic League Most Valuable Player honors unanimously.
Now, the 6-foot-4 combo forward can add the Napa Valley Register’s 2018-19 All-Napa County Boys Basketball Player of the Year to his accolades.
The senior operated primarily as small-ball power forward, or “4,” but gave his team the ultimate lineup flexibility with the tools to play anywhere from point guard to center depending on the matchup.
Grizzlies head coach Zack Cook said Swim “did a little bit of everything for us this year,” which might be an understatement.
“He scored inside and outside for us, and often was matched up in the post against taller players,” Cook said. “His work ethic in practice and the weight room was second to none.”
With his combination of strength and ball handling, Swim’s brand of power and finesse proved hellacious for VVAL defenders as he averaged 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
“I’m pretty undersized for my position, but I work hard,” Swim said. “I work harder to grab rebounds over bigger guys than me. I’m not much of a shooter, but working hard makes up for it.”
What position does he like to play the most?
“Well, I can take the ball up the court and play ‘1’ through ‘5’ against some teams, but my preference is probably the ‘3’ or ‘4.’ If it’s an undersized team, put me at the ‘4’ and I’ll just go to work all day,” Swim said, his eyes widening with excitement. “But the ‘3’ is definitely a fun spot, too, because you can get some smaller guys on you and take advantage of them inside. If you get a bigger guy on you, you can try to take them off the dribble, back them down, or move them.”
When trying to come up with an NBA player comparison for his game, Swim went with fellow Californian Kawhi Leonard due to their similarly massive hands, physicality, slashing and driving ability and tenacious defense.
Swim’s love for basketball can be traced back to his days in a cradle when his father Brad, the current Napa High JV head coach and member of that 1991 Monticello Empire League championship team, introduced him to the game.
He started playing at age 5 and always had the guiding hand of his dad, who played basketball at Napa Valley College and UC Davis after his high school career.
“He’s actually coached me my entire life. The only problem with having your dad as your coach is you don’t really listen to him sometimes,” Zach Swim chuckled. “But he really knows a lot about basketball and it was honestly amazing having him as my coach for all that time. I kind of am the same player as him, a little big. He couldn’t shoot, but he was really scrappy.”
With Napa moving from the MEL to the VVAL this school year, the younger Swim had an inkling this season might hold big things for his team. Heading into his 13th year playing the sport, Swim found himself honing his game with former Vintage basketball coach Ted Ward as part of a North Bay Basketball Academy showcase team prior to this season.
Ward had seen Swim develop from a scrawny sixth-grader into a dynamic, multi-positional threat, and told him this was his year – his year to win league MVP and take Napa High back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
“That’s when I really started to take it seriously and think, ‘Hey, this could actually happen,’” Swim said. “I just started working even harder from there and to think that it actually came true, it’s just amazing to be able to reach that goal.”
After helping lead Napa to a brilliant season that included a 12-0 league record, Swim and his team found themselves in the CIF North Coast Section Div. 1 playoffs as the No. 14 seed traveling to Union City to face No. 3 seed James Logan.
Riding a 16-game winning streak, the Grizzlies saw their season end with a competitive 85-76 loss. But the bitterness of that first-round loss faded a bit after when the Grizzlies realized just how good their opponent was.
James Logan went on to garner Northern California’s No. 1 seed in the CIF State Boys Basketball Championship, defeating Branson-Ross 54-49 in the regional Finals before losing to Chino Hills, 69-63 in the state championship.
“They were really such a good team, very physical and bigger than us, but we managed to hang with them,’ Swim said of the Colts. “To see them go all the way to the state championship, that was incredible to see that we actually could hang with a team like that.
“If we had a higher seed, I think we could have gone a little deeper in the playoffs. But I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
While he will always be able to reminisce on the highs and lows of his final high school hoops season, Swim is still playing NBBA showcase basketball, honing his craft to potentially play in college.
He plans to major in business and is looking to either play basketball at Napa Valley College or the College of Marin next winter. If he decides to go the four-year route, Swim and fellow senior teammates Stephen Blume and Vince O’Kelley have talked about teaming up to potentially walk on at Cal State University, Monterey Bay.
Whatever endeavors he embarks on next, if Swim approaches them with the same level of tenacity that he gave to Napa High basketball, there is no doubt he will be successful.