The Ellsworth Community College men's basketball team is proud to announce one of its own is moving on to the next level. ECC Assistant Men's Basketball Coach Dain Swetalla has signed to play pro basketball for the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) Frankston Blues team.
Swetalla, like all basketball players growing up, dreamed of playing pro basketball. After graduating from college in 2008 he quickly realized his dream and started his overseas career. He has played in Romania, PBL American League in Buffalo (NY), Spain, Serbia and Portugal. After two years in Portugal he participated in an NBA D League tryout in New York in 2013 and was one of six players chosen to be drafted into the NBA D-League. He was unable to pursue his drafted status due to an injury, which required surgery between the June tryout and November draft. Following his surgery and rehab another opportunity to play presented itself, this time in Australia for the SEABL team Kilsyth. The timing of the opportunity and rushed rehab forced Swetalla to return to action (in his mind, too soon) and two months into the season another injury to the same area required season-ending surgery. After surgery in Australia, Swetalla returned to Iowa wondering if he'd ever be able to play again.
While staying with a family friend in Des Moines to get his teaching authorization, he discovered that the Panthers were looking for an assistant coach. The family friend, Paul Dorrefeld, a former teammate and friend of Head Coach Troy Muilenburg, brought up the coaching opportunity and introduced Coach Swetalla to Muilenburg. After meeting the players and Coach Muilenburg, Swetalla accepted a position at the beginning of the 2014 season as assistant coach.
Swetalla says every time he has arrived at a point in his playing career where he was making strides to get ahead, he has encountered an injury that's set him back. In spite of that, he's never given up on the dream to play professional ball. "I didn't want to end with an injury. After coaching at ECC this past year my passion was re-energized," says Swetalla. "Being around the game and seeing my health fully improve gave me the itch to go back. After being out so long I only wanted to return once I was confident in my physical abilities, and I've gotten to that point again.
The tale of how Swetalla came to resume his playing career is a story in itself. Stephen Blackley, current GM of the Frankston Blues, contacted Muilenburg looking for players. Muilenburg and Blackley were teammates when playing overseas in Australia, for the Frankston Blues (Swetalla's new team) in the mid 90's. The connection between the two is also how Muilenburg placed former ECC player Tony Lewis, who was the MVP of the SEABL league in 2014, which ironically was the same year Swetalla was there playing for Kilsyth. Lewis and Swetalla played against each other before Swetalla's injury, with no idea of the connections they would eventually share. Muilenburg was made aware that Frankston was looking for a player who was an exact match for Swetalla's abilities. "They were looking for a power forward and I knew Dain would fit in well there," says Muilenburg.
Luckily for the Panthers, Swetalla's season will not begin until after ECC's season is over. When asked how this big opportunity for him will influence the Panthers, Swetalla says, "I think our coaching staff has developed a great dynamic. The guys already know I'm a big proponent of 'practice what you preach' and try my best to lead by example. This opportunity is a tangible thing that our guys can relate to. Now they know someone who's made it to the next level and they will experience next level competition every day as I play against them."
"I've never believed that my playing career was over," Swetalla adds. "If you're an athlete its just part of the identity of who you are. I've read countless stories of how hard it is for former players to call it quits on playing because they feel that the act of playing basketball is the identifying factor that makes them who they are. And when you no longer have that title as 'so-and-so the basketball player' it's hard to take that in and accept the next stage of life. However, because my physical condition is the best it's ever been right now, I strongly feel that I can and should still play."
Swetalla has been a great influence in the short time he has been at Ellsworth, which has not gone unnoticed by those around him. "His work ethic is an example of what we would like to create in our program," says Coach Muilenburg. "He brings basketball knowledge and dedication to the program. As a coach he is willing to share his opinions and make the program stronger. He can also demonstrate firsthand to our players what its like to play at the next level."
"The timing of Dain playing overseas couldn't be better for him or us as a team," adds Muilenburg. "He has another chance to play professionally, and we still get him for coaching. He is at the stage in his career where he can see how good he can really be."
Swetalla has left a mark not only on the basketball program but on the rest of the Ellsworth campus and the Iowa Falls community. "Dain has done a great job working with Troy," says ECC Athletic Director Nate Forsyth. "He has also helped with other things throughout the year on campus and worked with the younger kids around Iowa Falls. ECC wishes him the best of luck and looks forward to a reunion down the road. Any athlete wants to play at the professional level, and its great that he is able to take advantage of this opportunity."
ECC Provost Dr. Martin Reimer adds, "In my time here as a new member of the ECC family, Dain has impressed me on several levels. He relates well to his players and cares about the students in general. He is also an asset to the community. He holds high expectations for his players on and off the court. We are happy for him and wish him well in this next step in his journey."
The future is bright for Swetalla, but he promises he will not forget about Ellsworth. When asked about future plans on coming back, he said, "I will leave at the conclusion of our season, through the playoffs and return to coach at ECC when the SEABL season is finished the end of September. The people of this town and Ellsworth have done a great deal for me and I can't thank them enough for their support ... everyone in Iowa Falls, the E-Club, the boosters, the alumni, the faculty and staff, my players, the parents and families of the kids I have been training for over a year through my DSPD basketball program, and especially Coach Troy Muilenburg for making this a possibility. I thank everyone for their support of myself and our program and look forward to making you all proud."
Photo Caption: Pictured left to right: Dr. Martin Reimer, ECC Provost; Troy Muilenburg, ECC Head Men's Basketball Coach; Dain Swetalla, ECC Assistant Men's Basketball Coach; and Nate Forsyth, ECC Athletic Director.