What is he?
The further Caleb Swanigan gets from his brilliant collegiate career, the more confounding his existence on the basketball court becomes.
In the reboot of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, the scientists at the park are working to fill in the splices of DNA left over from dinosaurs with other animals creating a super dinosaur. This dinosaur, shockingly, is both coveted and created by the government, and too dangerous to exist. So dangerous that it doesn’t seem stoppable.
My nephew is obsessed with dinosaurs. He is almost five and for a while, if you asked him what he was, he would say Indominus Rex. Only he’s four and syllables are hard and it comes out in rapid succession because it excites him, this weird creature of ancient size and modern skill and speed.
You see where I’m going with this?
Caleb Swanigan was both of this world and from an ancient one. He had the body of an old school bruiser. He rebounded the ball and blocked out and used his body to absolutely bully whoever was trying to guard. It was never as pretty as you thought it might be. His effectiveness was based off the fact he was going to go 110% at the ball and you weren’t big enough to stop him.
But he was also surprisingly agile at times. He could shoot. He could pass. On certain possessions, trailing behind the team or popping out to the corner, he looked like a modern big man. He’d catch the ball and go up in one fluid motion and the ball would go in nearly 45% of the time.
In the same moment, he was the country’s third best rebounder and 47th most efficient three-point shooter.
But he was never as fast as the raptors or as big as the T-rex, and god forbid what happened when he had to go up against whatever that terrifying water dinosaur was that would ultimately finish the Indominus Rex off. (Hi, Mo Wagner)
Trevion Williams comes to Purdue with the moniker of Big Baby Biggie (trademark pending). They look like similar players. Both of them big bruisers. Williams averaged over 20 rebounds in both his junior and senior seasons of high school. And just like Swanigan, he comes to Purdue as a kind of weird ancient/modern hybrid of skill and size.
From all highlights and insights about his game, Williams is truly an original. For a big man he has great vision. His handle seems to be tight and creative. There’s a jump shot lurking in him. There’s also a bully. Someone capable of being the focal point of a post-centric offense.
What is Williams? It’s hard to be sure. A foot injury cost him a lot of conditioning in the summer. There are hints that Purdue’s main goal is to get him into shape. This is ripped straight from Purdue’s official roster notes on Williams, “Should take off once he arrives at Purdue with its top-notch strength and conditioning plan.”
But he’s nearly 300 pounds and taking the jump into Big Ten basketball. There will be conditioning questions the entire season. There will be defensive questions.
Swanigan didn’t take the leap until his sophomore season. He never became a great defender. Will Williams need a similar time frame? Can he hold up against quick big men? Swanigan came in as one of the hardest working freshman Painter has ever had. He left as maybe the single more devoted to his craft player Purdue has had. Does Williams have it in him? Will the results look the same?
A big man with the ability to hold down the post, shoot outside, and pass is exactly what Coach Painter had in mind with Swanigan. It never fully clicked. There was always Haas also in the paint and needing touches. The team and Biggie still thrived though falling early in the NCAA tournament his freshman year and then running into a buzz saw of a Kansas team his sophomore.
This year, the big men are all young and none of them offer the offensive potential that Williams has. For all the long Dutch limbs, Williams is the big man with the highest ceiling. He could absolutely anchor a destructive offense and allow Carsen to catch his breath or just simply pull attention away from him.
But the curiosity of Williams goes further than that. Purdue has had a string of players that have taken sparks of potential and turned into basketball giants. For two years in a row, Purdue has had finalists for National Player of the Year, and they were both sophomores.
Is Trevion Williams the next one? Or is he a player existing between worlds, not quite fitting either?
For next year, Williams ability to control the post while finding open players off of double-teams might be the key that unlocks a young but dangerous offense. He’s a mismatch against anyone one on one, and if his vision carries to the next level, Purdue will have their answer to who their next dominant big will be.