Caleb Swanigan’s Purdue basketball started the way it might end, with a question: Will he stay or will he go?
#Biggiewatch started three years ago when the 5-star recruit and Mcdonald’s All-American decided to de-commit from Michigan State and open his recruiting back up. It was the start of a very strange college career. He was the first big-big-big time name to come to Purdue since a combover was in charge of the program. He was a program-changer.
He was also mostly bad his freshman season. Despite nearly averaging a double-double, the freshman struggled to find a consistent rhythm. He turned the ball over too much. He couldn’t score over bigger defenders, he couldn’t get around smaller ones, he guarded no one. He had one skill, rebounding the ball, on a team that was already filled with seven-foot monsters and a versatile swiss-army man named Vincent Edwards. It wasn’t a clean fit.
Swanigan always wanted to play in the NBA, but he matured after his freshman year. After that question popped up again - will he stay or will he go - he got back into the gym. The NBA draft combine was not kind to the freshman. He had the highest body fat at the combine. He looked overmatched in the scrimmages. He wasn’t elite athletically anywhere.
He got into the gym. He didn’t just lose some weight. He changed his body. He took what was once a fat, 300 plus pound frame, and turned it into a lean, conditioned machine. He put up shots at the Co-rec day in and day out while they dealt with flooding issues at Mackey and Cardinal Court. He moved from cone to cone, NBA distance, feet set, receiving feed after feed from the man who took him in and showed him how important discipline was.
He stayed, not by choice, but because the NBA told him they didn’t want him. He could have moped. He could have been dejected. Instead, he worked harder. He showed up his sophomore a new player.
His first game: 23 points, 20 rebounds, 6 assists.
An aberration, a weak opponent, we all knew the potential was there, but it was just one of those nights. Then he did it again, and not just once, but in back to back games. In three days - two games total - Caleb Swanigan had 53 points and 41 rebounds. People were starting to pay attention. The media was starting to pay attention.
Then he did it again, in a Big 10 game, in a loss, but still, 28 points and 22 rebounds while playing 41 minutes of an over time game. This wasn’t just a feel good story. This was one of the best players in the country. He was both incredible and consistent. Setting records for double-doubles in a season and 20-20 games and averaging stat lines that have only been touched by legends of college basketball.
At the end of it all, he was a finalist for National Player of the Year. Snubbed for the nation’s best power forward award.
A top fifteen recruit in the nation living up to his promise as one of the best basketball players in the history of the game. But here’s the curios part of his career. It is still not enough for the NBA. They still don’t want him, not in the way he wants wanted. There’s still not a guaranteed first round grade to his name.
So despite the pedigree, the accolades, the wish to be a pro, and the production, there is still just that one question to ask:
Will he stay or will he go?