After a season that brought Purdue rightfully back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years, things look wayyyyyyy up for the 2015-16 season. While the main course for the Boilermakers success in Lafayette remains to be A.J. Hammons (who announced he would be coming back for his senior season, keeping the continuity of coach Matt Painter's already deep roster), incoming freshman Caleb Swanigan is the dessert sundae. Let's take a closer look.
Who: Caleb Swanigan
What's his story?: Michigan State fans might want to cover their eyes for this part, as I'm sure it still stings. Swanigan, who verbally committed to the Sparty overlord, Tom Izzo, ended up reopening his recruitment because, well, I'm still not sure the actual reason. Some say it was because Swanigan wanted to win a national title and he wasn't sure he could do that at Michigan State. Others presume that his legal guardian Roosevelt Barnes - a former Purdue football player - was in the big mans ear whispering sweet nothing's about his alma mater. And then there is the thing about Swanigan's decision being about "business", and that he switched his commitment to maximize his future earning potential.
No matter what angle you believe in, the weeks following his open season were a circus. New leaders in the clubhouse seemed to come and go as the hours ticked by. Seriously, it was one of the most interesting Twitter follows in the moment. Many believed Kentucky was the odds on favorite, especially with Coach Cal putting on a full court press. That was, until Michigan State was back in the running. Heck, Purdue wasn't even believed to be a real contender. Like, at all.
Until it was. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Recruitnik Roundabout: According to 247Sports Composite, Swanigan is a 5-star 6'8", 265 pound center. He is ranked as the 18th best prospect, 4th at his position and number one in the state of Indiana. ESPN marks Swanigan as their 9th best player in the nation, 3rd at his position and number one in state. No matter your preference, this kid is very, very good.
Does he have a social media presence?: Yes, and he likes a wide variety of subjects. For example, it looks like Swanigan is a huge proponent of celebrating National Twitter Holidays:
#NationalExDay u ugly— Big Sauce (@Biggs_Swanigan) June 14, 2015
Calling all you exes out there...
Also, for all the parents in the West Lafayette area, you can find Swanigan's "Off-season Nanny" profile on Care.com:
Giving little kids food to get them to shut up . Probably the most consistent move I ever make.— Big Sauce (@Biggs_Swanigan) May 21, 2015
Swanigan also has interesting #hottakes on super heroes:
Please somebody dress this kid up in a giant Iron Man costume and send him to next years Comic Con with a sign reading, "Captain America is to super heroes, what I am to broke. #SauceSeason"
And then there is this tweet/insta... full disclosure, I'm still not quite sure how to take it. But it surely made Sparty fans every form of salty:
Also, as a side note: Big props to the Purdue Twitter handlers for putting this out when Swanigan (aka Biggie) made his commitment to the program official:
What do his former coaches say?: Like most kids, that he had a goal of being a champion and an NBA talent and didn't just let raw talent do all of the work. From Swanigan's former high school coach, Chris Johns via statenews.com:
"(Swanigan) went from back to the basket, here people would give him the 15-foot jump shot," Johnson said, "to where he worked on his craft where was able to transform some of that baby fat to muscle, to where he trimmed down even more his senior year to get it to where he can knock down the three point shot and shoot it consistently. Each and every year during the three years that I had him, he’s improved tremendously and that’s because of all of his hard work to himself in that position."
Why should the average Big Ten fan be excited to watch him play?: Quite simply, he's one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten without even playing a minute. With Hammons and Isaac Haas manning most of the center minutes, Swanigan doesn't have to stay in the post to be effective. While he could be a small ball center in super fun lineups, him playing along side true centers is going to give opposing big men fits. While some may argue that spacing is going to be an issue, I believe Swanigan is a big enough shooting threat walking into West LaLa that he eliminates all concerns.
Plus, he's got handles. And a great passing eye. And he's just so so so strong, people just bounce off of him.
Heck, Matt Painter believes he'd be a Division-I basketball player even if he was 5'10" because of his play making skills. Swanigan will surely contend with Diamond Stone for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and I can't wait to watch what each of them will do to one up the other.
What says the tape:
- Off topic a little bit, but the way City League Hoops start off every mixtape with the little kid saying, "Hey, it's the best kept secret" before dropping whatever amateur beat they made always makes me laugh. It's weird, but I love it.
- Right away you see the ball handling ability in the open court. Not many 6'8", 200-something pound basketball players can do that at any level.
- The shooting stroke is actually kind of pretty for a big man. Sure it still looks a bit awkward and a tad too slow, but the guy is ginormous and has a wing span (depending on where you look) in the range of 7'2" and 7'3". The form is what to look at, and it's good. There's no flying elbow, he's got a nice follow through and has complete control of his body. To start going left, stop on a dime with all of that length and weight and launch a jump shot is difficult. But it was pretty seamless. I'm impressed.
- I'm not sure Swanigan is going to "wow" people with his athleticism, but OH MY GOD A TURN AROUND DIRK SHOT! A TURN AROUND DIRK SHOT!
- This kid is strong in the post. He just wills his way to the hoop. Him, Hammons and Haas are going to put a lot of opposing big men in foul trouble.
- While I'm still shocked from the fadeaway Dirk capabilities, I keep noticing the footwork down low. He's graceful. In so many of the work outs, game tape and hype videos, all of the "post up" footage has his defenders heaving, lurching and forcibly chesting-up after his onslaught of pivots and head fakes.
- If Vegas put a line on "Most likely Big Ten player to break a backboard after dunking", Swanigan would be your odds on favorite.