Caleb Swanigan decided the NBA could wait. Now “Biggie” discusses his road to becoming a National Player of the Year candidate as he helps Purdue chase its first Big Ten title in seven years.
Caleb Swanigan needed time to reflect before finalizing the two most important decisions of his basketball career.
And he ended up choosing Purdue – twice.
“Biggie” first pledged to Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo, who Swanigan admitted was surprised when the five-star recruit called to share the news. Swanigan later hinted that he made his decision too quickly during his whirlwind recruitment, and Izzo’s intuition proved correct when the young man flipped his commitment to Purdue a short time later.
Being guaranteed to play his more comfortable power forward position, the benefit of having two 7-footers on the Boilermakers’ roster at the time, was too good to pass up.
“It allows me to do more than just play with my back to the basket,” Swanigan told Campus Insiders. “I can be all around the floor and show more of my skill set.”
Swanigan’s second landmark decision came when, after initially declaring for last year’s NBA Draft, he realized he had even more to show. He averaged 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds as a freshman, but scored only six points and didn’t have much of an impact in Purdue’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to No. 12-seed Arkansas-Little Rock.
Swanigan flirted with the idea of leaving school before ultimately deciding to return to West Lafayette, and that decision is paying off. After recording eight double-doubles all of last season, he is tied for the national lead with 12 heading into Thursday’s nights contest at Ohio State.
The prospect of leaving the Boilermakers – or not joining them at all – seems tough to believe now. Swanigan has developed into a favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year honors and is receiving attention nationally for his play on the court – not for where he’ll be playing.
He’s among the Big Ten leaders in scoring with an average of 18.5 points, and ranks second in the nation averaging 13 rebounds per game.
Averaging 23.6 points and 16.6 rebounds over his last five games – including a monster 28-point, 22-rebound performance in Sunday’s overtime loss to Minnesota – Swanigan has helped guide No. 20 Purdue to a blistering 12-3 start. The Boilermakers haven’t won a Big Ten championship since 2009-10, nor have they claimed an outright regular-season title since taking three straight from 1994-96, but are primed to reverse those fortunes this season.
“I felt like I could be a better player and help this team win games,” Swanigan said. “It seemed like the better choice at the time. I feel like I wasn’t ready then, and I’ll be more ready with more time (at Purdue).”
Returning to school has helped Swanigan move into the conversation of being one of the nation’s top players. His NBA draft stock now is much higher should he decide to leave after this season.
But not long ago, playing at the game’s highest level seemed unlikely during Swanigan’s rough upbringing. He weighed 360 pounds in eighth grade before Roosevelt Barnes, a former Purdue football player and mentor to Swanigan’s older brother Carl, legally adopted Swanigan and gave him a steady life.
Swanigan developed into a McDonald’s All-American and has dropped 110 pounds, helping him become more versatile. He’s developed a shooting touch – knocking down 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers – and can get to the basket in multiple ways by putting the ball on the floor. Swanigan has shot 96 free throws in 15 games compared to 94 in 34 games last season.
“I’m in better shape, and the more you play, you gain experience,” Swanigan said. “It’s about the flow of the game and just letting it come to you.”
And that patience is paying off.