From the time they were 6 years old until their senior year of high school, Jaelyn and Lyric Swann always played on the same basketball team. They got the nickname “Wonder Twins” at age 8 and later led Howard County’s Long Reach High School to its first-ever state championship appearance.
They had ambitions of playing on the same team in college, but Lyric headed off to UMBC and Jaelyn to Muhlenberg last fall. But after one year apart, the Swann twins are back together, as Jaelyn joined UMBC’s team as a walk-on this fall.
“I’m extremely excited,” Jaelyn said. “Lyric was happy and my mom was happy. It just brought back memories of high school and AAU when we were the ‘Wonder Twins,’ and now we’re both excited that we’re back together playing again.”
Basketball runs in the family. The twins’ mother Karyn played at UMBC from 1988-92. But she didn’t push for her daughters to try the sport until her old teammate, Angel Reese, recommended they participate in the Edreco clinic in Baltimore. After two years in the clinic, Jaelyn and Lyric started playing in actual games. That’s when Karyn saw they had a knack for the sport.
“I really saw their abilities as basketball players,” Karyn said. “They were really good as 8-year-olds, dribbling up and down the court and shooting and stuff like that.”
That same year, Karyn also started coaching her daughters by accident. She stepped in to coach their team one weekend when the usual coach was unable to and never stopped. She continued coaching her daughters through the various level of basketball, from local rec leagues to travel basketball and then AAU.
“I loved having my mom as my coach,” Lyric said. “She was always there to push me to work my hardest, work my best. It was good to have a coach as a mom because she was like my trainer and she would see something in the game and we would go over film.”
Lyric went on to be named the Howard County girls’ basketball Player of the Year as a junior and senior at Long Reach. She scored 1,571 points during her career, which was seventh in county history. She came on UMBC’s radar in eighth grade and committed during her sophomore year of high school.
For Lyric, it was important that she play close to home so that her mother could attend her games. Jaelyn took a different path, wanting to get out of Maryland and be independent. She had some interest from Division I programs but was never too interested in playing at that level. She committed to Division III Muhlenberg, a private liberal arts college in Allentown, Pa., about three hours away from her hometown of Elkridge, Md.
It didn’t take long for Jaelyn and Lyric to start missing one another. They have different personalities that complement each other. Jaelyn is soft-spoken and keeps to herself, while Lyric is more the social butterfly. According to their mother, Lyric helps Jaelyn come out of her shell, while Jaelyn helps Lyric “slow down a little bit and focus on the details of life.”
Each time they came home, it was harder to go back to college and go their separate ways.
“As time went on they started missing each other more and more, especially when Jaelyn would come home,” Karyn said. “It was just making it harder for her to go back, and it started becoming a lot more evident.”
By the end of her freshman season, Jaelyn knew she wanted to transfer and play with her sister again. Lyric asked UMBC head coach Johnetta Hayes if her sister could join the team, and Hayes said she could walk on to the team.
But Jaelyn wasn’t starting from scratch with the coaching staff; she worked out with the team when she was home during winter break. Hayes said the coaching staff made sure to split up the twins when the team went in small groups in order to see how Jaelyn fit in with the team and not just with her sister. Jaelyn also took part in team Zoom calls.
While there was never an official “you made the team” moment, Hayes said Jaelyn has taken the opportunity and run with it.
Though Jaelyn may still have to sit out this season under NCAA rules if she can’t get a waiver, Hayes sees a role for her on the team and has played walk-ons in the past. The 5-foot-10 Jaelyn averaged just 2.8 points in 9.3 minutes a game as a freshman at Muhlenberg but had a reputation in high school as a knockdown shooter and a good perimeter defender.
“What separates her from most is her IQ and her ability to shoot the ball pretty good,” Hayes said. “She’s always in the right spot consistently. Maybe not the tallest or the strongest, but always in the right spot. And she has more heart than anyone I know. Maybe one or two others on our team can match it. Her heart, that’s hard to coach and hard to teach.”
In high school, Jaelyn’s smooth shooting touch complemented Lyric, who was the more ball-dominant point guard. The 5-foot-5 Lyric has settled into a somewhat similar role at UMBC, though she hasn’t needed to carry as big of a load. She averaged 8.4 points per game last year and started all 28 games for the Retrievers, who went 10-18 overall and 6-10 in the America East. With leading scorer Te’yJah Oliver graduating, Hayes is expecting Lyric, one of only three returning players from last year’s team, to score more and be a leader.
“She’s a big part of our future,” Hayes said. “And I told her last year all the time, ‘You’re the future of our program,’ and I think she understands that better now as we put all these pieces together to formulate our team and continue to build a culture.”
Whenever Jaelyn and Lyric do step on the court together again, it will be a moment they’ve been building toward their entire lives. At 6 months old, they would sit on the sidelines in a stroller while their mother played in UMBC alumni games. They would go to the school’s homecoming events as kids, participating in all the typical carnival activities. Once they started playing basketball, Karyn organized outings for the Edreco organization to go to UMBC women’s basketball games. After the game, they would meet the players and get autographs and a tour of the locker room.
It’s a moment others have been waiting for, too. Now, Karyn doesn’t have to figure out her schedule for every weekend, which sometimes meant she would be streaming Jaelyn’s games while attending Lyric’s games at UMBC.
“It’s just nice that they’re both going to be in the same place and [I’ll] be able to cheer for the both of them again,” Karyn said. “I’m just super, super excited.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletics and Gail Burton
Originally posted Oct. 14, 2020