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Caleb Swanigan and a Trip to Greece

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What we learned from Swanigan's experience with the u19 national team.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Swanigan and US's U19 team took home gold after an overtime victory against Croatia.  Our big man mostly rode the pine playing just over ten minutes a game through the tournament, but this was our first chance to see him against real competition and I've got some observations.

  • Sean Miller is one of the foremost defensive coaches in the country. Arizona prides itself on a lot of the things Matt Painter and Purdue does. For a young kid, to see not only his own coach, but another, well-respected coach preach similar things should only cement the importance of doing the right things, particularly on the defense end.
  • That said, Coach Miller has a type: long, athletic, and quick. It was striking to watch Swanigan walk onto the court with the rest of the U19 roster. The team was full of twigs that could move up and down the court in hyper drive. Miller had the US team press and wreak havoc on international teams that were way more polished in the half court. Swanigan looked huge, like the biggest person in the tournament even if he wasn't the tallest. I wanted to apologize on behalf of our newest Baby Boiler any time he set a pick on an unsuspecting European.
  • Again, this team pressed constantly and ran up and down the floor. That is not Swanigan's game. He showed good effort in running up and down the court, but the players had no interest in giving Caleb a chance to become a post presence. They favored using their quickness and athleticism to drive to the rim.
  • Swanigan is not laterally quick, at all. Maybe it was heightened because everyone else on the team was so shifty, but it has to give you a little pause. There's a reason most colleges recruiting him wanted him as a five. Swanigan did not look capable of guarding athletic fours who could dribble. He fouled a lot simply because the guy he was guarding went right by him. Hammons will help to clean up after him, but this could be an issue that keeps Swanigan for being on the floor for the Boilers as much as some of us think he will. There's not that many teams left, even in the Big Ten, that have a significant post bully, let alone two. So once Hammons takes the center, who can/does Swanigan guard?
  • Can Haas and Swanigan play together, ever? Haas and Hammons didn't play last year, and Swanigan right now doesn't project to be anywhere near the defender Hammons is, so can Caleb only play with A. J.? And do we attempt lineups with Caleb at center and Edwards or Smotherman at power forward and sacrifice rim protection for our best offensive lineups? If Swanigan struggles defensively and needs Hammons to anchor him, is Haas underutilized for a second straight season?
  • Swanigan has great hands. It is not an understatement to say that these guards had no intention or idea how to feed big men past flashy oop attempts, and Caleb made a couple nice grabs on not so nice passes.
  • When Swanigan gets the ball, a rarity in this tournament as it went alone, he is strong, quick, and decisive. He's already got moves and a nice touch with either hand. It'll look different in Big Ten play with Big Ten bodies banging against him and Big Ten length, but we'll also have an offense designed to give him the ball where he wants it.
  • I'd bet an outrageous sum of money that Swanigan will never be caught off guard by a pass coming his way. Dude is constantly asking for the ball, hand in the air.
  • Swanigan is the best post passer we've had since maybe Brad Miller. Not because he's a great passer or all that willing, but simply because that is a dry, dry resource in our well. Haas and Hammons threw about as many passes to the first row this year as they did to Purdue players. Swanigan had a few passes that showed a sense of anticipation severely lacking from our bigs last year. With more shooters around the perimeter this year than we've had in a while, this could be the difference in a good team and a great one.
  • Swanigan did not fit with the up and down pace of international ball or with Sean Miller's defensive style. That is a good thing. He made the team anyway. He wasn't a hindrance. He struggled on defense, but at Purdue, we'll tailor our defense to iron out those wrinkles. He'll be a focus here, not just a big body with too much talent to say no to. He appeared coachable and worked hard. He's going to rebound and he's going to score. And if everything breaks right, he's going to be great. Just like the Boilers this year.