Craig Sword Is Back On The International Stage, Ready To Seize His Opportunity
For versatile guard Craig Sword, playing in FIBA World Cup qualifying is the latest in a string of career breakthroughs that have come from years of hard work and perseverance.
While playing for the Capital City Go-Go in the NBA G League last season, Sword learned about one such breakthrough from his coach and 2022 AmeriCup assistant Mike Williams. Sword tried out for the USA Basketball Men’s AmeriCup Team and ultimately made the final roster.
A starter for every game during September’s tournament in Brazil, he led the team in steals with 1.7 per game and finished second in scoring with 10.2 points per game.
Sword impressed, and that experience has led to more opportunities with USA Basketball, including another call-up to the national team for the fifth window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying.
“How I got this opportunity, I don’t know. It was a blessing,” Sword said. “After the AmeriCup, I didn’t expect to come back and be in the qualifiers. I’m grateful for this.”
The 28-year-old Sword has always been grateful for his opportunities, whenever they have come during his career.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sword was with the Grand Rapids Drive in the G League when everything shut down. Although the G League eventually resumed operations, Sword’s team opted not to participate. As a result, he went more than a year and a half without playing a G League game.
It’s the kind of situation that could derail a career. But then Sword — who played collegiately at Mississippi State and professionally in Poland and Mexico — found a way to make some income while keeping his basketball dreams alive.
“Around that time, I just thought basketball was completely over, and I had to try to find something I was comfortable with,” Sword recalled. “I did a lot of research on different things that I thought I might like — something that’s indoors — and I came up with a cleaning service.”
During the height of the pandemic, cleaning services were in high demand. His new company, Sword Xtreme Cleaning, was able to find plenty of work in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. The company is a part of Sword’s plans after his playing career finishes, but for now, that career has resumed and even reached new heights.
Shortly after Sword returned to the court in November 2021 for a new G League season, now with the Go-Go, the NBA implemented a new hardship exception rule that allowed teams to sign temporary replacements when a player on their roster tested positive for COVID.
Around a month later, Sword got his call. The Washington Wizards gave him the opportunity he’d been waiting a long time for — even if it took some effort to receive the actual call.
In the parking garage below his apartment, where Sword and his family were getting groceries out of the car, Sword’s phone wasn’t getting service as his agent desperately tried to reach him to give him the news.
“I get upstairs, and I had like 50 missed calls from my agent,” Sword recalled. “He was like, ‘Man what are you doing? You’re about to blow this!’”
Eventually Sword connected with Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard and joined the team on a 10-day contract.
“It was probably one of the best moments of my life getting that call,” Sword said. Sword ultimately played in three games for the Wizards, where he averaged more than a steal per game. He’s now ready to take on his new career opportunity with USA Basketball in what are some important World Cup qualifying games.
With just two more qualifying windows remaining, the U.S. leads group with a 7-2 record and controls its own destiny. Even after falling to Brazil on Friday, a win over Colombia would nearly guarantee the U.S. a spot in next year’s World Cup.
With a mostly new roster for this qualifying window and only a week of training camp, Sword — like most players on this team — is still finding his role under head coach Jim Boylen. But Sword knows that he’ll be counted on to provide tenacious defense, something that has become a signature of his game.
“Everywhere I go, they’re going to look at me for defense,” Sword said. “It’s just in me to play harder than everybody. That’s what I think separates me — people think I’m a great defender, but I just play hard.”
After this qualifying window ends, Sword won’t have to go very far. He’s still with the Capital City Go-Go, who play their games in the same arena that is used for these World Cup qualifiers. His goal is to crack the Wizards roster again and feels that his time with the national team will only help him improve as a player, especially with his conditioning and the mental side of the game.
He also continues to work with his nonprofit, Team Us, which he started during the pandemic with a few of his former teammates and his high school strength coach. The organization’s goal is to combat childhood obesity through physical fitness and holds events in Montgomery.
But right now, Sword’s attention is squarely set on helping the U.S. secure a spot in the World Cup, and he’s savoring the experience.