Even before his initial commitment, I watched Caleb Swanigan's recruitment with great interest. The kid they call "Biggie" was tearing it up throughout the year in my home state of Indiana. After reclassifying to 2015 and turning his junior season into a senior one, Swanigan would go on to win Mr. Basketball and a state title for his school. Those two accomplishments put him on an exclusive list with guys like Bobby Plump, Oscar Robertson, Damon Bailey, Glenn Robinson, and more recently Greg Oden, the Zellers and Trey Lyles. The young man continued to impress as he played through a bevy of all-star events, including the McDonald's All-American game.
As his season wound down, the clock ticked closer and closer to a potential announcement. Biggie never cut his list past seven teams: Chicago State, Duke, Arizona, Cal, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Purdue. Thus leading to wild speculation. Most agreed that while the CSU Cougars gave him his first ever offer, they were probably out of the running. Outside of that, no one really seemed confident about any rumor they reported.
Eventually, the rumblings about a planned big three of Swanigan, Ivan Rabb, and Jaylen Brown at Cal gained steam, leading to this tweet the morning of his initial commitment:
All signs pointing to Caleb Swanigan and Ivan Rabb heading to Cal, sources told ESPN. Right now, that's where they are heading to play.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 10, 2015
As a fan of Purdue, I was disheartened, but happy for former Boiler Cuonzo Martin and his program. It seemed like an intriguing story and a solid choice for a group of kids who were reportedly good friends and really wanted to play together.
Of course, if you're reading this you likely know what happened next...
Next year I will be going Michigan State university. Once a spartan. Always a Spartan— Big Sauce (@Biggs_Swanigan) April 10, 2015
At this point, just about everyone was shocked, Goodman typically has his finger on the pulse of college basketball and yet he was off the mark. Even Tom Izzo was quoted as being surprised by Biggie's choice. Rabb and Brown would later choose to combine their talents at Cal, but the big three dream seemed dead.
Recruiting is a frustrating thing to follow, especially if you have a rooting interest, and it always has been. These players are just kids, nearly all under 19 years old and many recruiting sagas start before a player even enters high school. For reporters and fans, recruiting means worrying for months and even years about the first big choice of fickle teenagers. I've let a recruit's decisions ruin an otherwise good day because he chose against a team I supported, and I've danced around like a fool in the middle of my workplace when a my team found a key piece they needed (looking at you Jon Octeus).
When Swanigan committed to MSU, I was a little disappointed, but mostly excited. As a fan, I've always said that I preferred Indiana high school players to end up at in-state schools, but if they did leave, I hoped they would wind up in the Big Ten. This desire only deepened once I joined BTP, and it has been a ton of fun watching guys like Gary Harris, Zak Irvin and Bryant McIntosh represent Indiana's high school talent at different schools. For me, MSU was a good choice for Swanigan, and I looked forward to reporting on him and his team here at the site. However, I did tell myself, as a Purdue fan, "until he signs a Letter of Intent, he could still choose to be a Boiler."
Then, this happened:
Michigan State commit Caleb Swanigan has decommitted, source told ESPN. Hearing Purdue is strong for a landing spot.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 7, 2015
Swanigan had decommitted, of course that meant nothing until he announced what his new plans were, he could always end up back as a Spartan. The media went crazy, seemingly within seconds. Everyone was back in play, even Cal, who would need to magically find a scholarship to make it happen. ESPN's Dan Dakich, former Hoosier and current Michigan dad, said that Swanigan to Purdue was "done," but as the week went on without any word from Swanigan or his guardian Roosevelt Barnes, it seemed more and more likely that Dakich might have gotten bad information.
My worry meter was full the whole time. Could he really end up here? Would it be like that time as a kid that my parents convinced me the mini-bike at my dad's motorcycle shop wasn't for me, but then it turned out it was all a ruse and it was mine (BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!)? I was searching "swanigan" on Twitter almost every hour, looking for any new tidbit of information. I was anxious about his initial decision, but after the decommitment I was obsessed.
As the week dragged on, the stories got crazier. The big one, was that Swanigan demanded a personal chef and his own room from Izzo. I personally don't believe this, Barnes is an ex-NFL player and sports agent, I bet if Caleb needed those things, his guardian could easily provide them. Secondly, I can't see any kid demanding something from Izzo, the man is terrifying. Don't get me wrong, he is a great coach and human being, but I'm guessing that he has made guys as tough as Derrick Nix and Draymond Green cry.
The next story was that Davon Dillard was going to reclassify to 2016 to open up a Cal scholarship. Then, as a week of waiting passed, other teams and fan bases never involved in his recruitment started to speculate and hope. Someone said he was on Mississippi State's campus, and after the dismissals of Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Devin Davis, a few Indiana fans started wishing about a potential combo of Thon Maker and Biggie as a replacement.
Seemingly credible reports also came in saying that Kentucky was back in the mix, or that he was really just stalling and waiting for California. The fan in me was worried about Purdue losing yet another blue chip recruit. So many swings and misses, some Boilermaker fans just expect to lose recruiting battles. As I watched people on Twitter literally begging this young man to come to their school, I started to realize that maybe they were all missing the point, as was I.
I started to relax as I decided that recruiting should be a mild bit of offseason entertainment at most. If your team lands a big recruit, go ahead and dance, but if they don't, don't let it ruin your day. Once I stopped worrying and just let myself enjoy the ride, it was a much better experience. The wild ideas people come up with are supremely entertaining. Imagining how different teams would look with a recruit in their line-up is also an enjoyable endeavor. Once I stopped fretting over Biggie's decision, I got to step back and enjoy the thought of a big three at a school not known for basketball in Cal or how cool it would be if he shocked the world and went to Chicago State.
I even managed to shrug off a clearly bogus report from some fansite that claimed MSU was suddenly back in the running and Kentucky was the front runner, while Purdue had no chance. Not sure how it gained traction when there isn't even a named writer for the site (remember students: if you don't put your name on your paper, you don't get credit).
In the end, we all know what happened.
Swanigan is coming to West Lafayette, and of course, I did a little dance at work when the news broke. After his announcement, like every big recruiting announcement, came all of the emotion from fans of the chosen team and fans of the teams that fell short. Emotion is great, but ripping on a young kid like he just went all "Game of Thrones" on your family is unacceptable from anyone. In that same vein, making claims of impropriety just because a teenager made a choice different than you would've is also tactless.
Recruiting is often a wild ride, and I decided I should just relax and try to enjoy it. Players have always changed their minds and recruiting has always been full of great and crazy stories. Larry Bird famously went to Indiana for about a month before quitting and going home for a year and eventually winding up as an Indiana State Sycamore. Eric Gordon flipped from Illinois to IU and caused quite a rift. Tony Parker turned down almost the entirety of the NCAA and went back home to France before the NBA. Even Purdue's Matt Painter was recruited by multiple Big Ten schools out of high school but after learning his hero Bob Knight was out of scholarships, it took Gene Keady and the opening of a previously taken scholarship to make him a Boiler.
In conclusion, by just remembering that these recruits are just kids and even those who do commit might never work out I saved myself a lot of unnecessary stress. By watching and enjoying a players recruitment like I would any regular season game, I think I will really get a lot more out of these battles. If a team I favor wins, that's great, but if they miss out, I still enjoyed the show at least.
I've stopped worrying and now I think I'm really going to love recruiting.