Why I'll Miss Biggie
Purdue had their first player leave early for the NBA in 23 years last week, as Caleb Swanigan made the life-changing decision to pursue his dream in the NBA. I will admit my heart was warmed by the way in which Purdue twitter wished him the best upon his decision. There are virtually no ill will or negative remarks. While that wasn’t always the case in the heat of the moment during the season, it seems as though Purdue fans were content with what was likely to happen and were able to look back and realize how lucky they were to get to watch Caleb for two seasons.
As mentioned, this is the first time Purdue has had a player of this caliber – one who could leave early for the NBA – since Glenn Robinson did so in 1994. But the Big Dog left after his junior season, so Biggie is doing something even more unprecedented – a Purdue basketball player talented enough to leave for the NBA after just two years.
Whatever you think of whether he’s ready or not, this has been Caleb Swanigan’s stated goal for basically his entire basketball life, or at least since Roosevelt Barnes got him to stop eating entire boxes of Cap’n Crunch for breakfast. This is a young man who works hard for everything he does. He became an NBA prospect early on in his college career. He was a double-double machine. He was an academic All-American. So it’s reasonable to think he’ll continue to work hard and continue to achieve. And that’s what I’ll miss.
Purdue has had many hard-working players come through town. Some were celebrated for their hard work, like Chris Kramer, Lew Jackson, Rob Hummel. Others weren’t, like Ryne Smith, who worked hard to get better and even JaJuan Johnson, who despite being a guy who could wilt at times, worked hard to become an NBA prospect. But I’m not sure they’ve had too many guys who were, yes, talented, but who simply decided to work and work and work and get better every day they were on campus. Or maybe it was his combination of physical skills and work ethic that is rarely seen. It makes me, of course, wonder how much better he could have gotten at the collegiate level… could he have been enough to put Purdue on his broad shoulders in 2018 and carry them to that long-awaited Final Four? It’s possible. But this is a guy who was an All-American player and student. He averaged a double-double. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year. As the saying goes, he didn’t have that much more to prove. And if he felt his draft stock was about as good as it was going to get, maybe it was time to get paid. It’s hard to blame him.
Remember (as though you could forget), this is a guy who was effectively homeless in middle school. He famously weighed 360 lbs in 8th grade. His dad died in his 40s. There are people who have a lucky lot in life and people who maybe can never catch a break. Caleb Swanigan was much further down the ladder in a rarified area where many people give up. No structure, no role models, no fitness, no guidance…no real hope. Then Rosie Barnes gave him the structure he so clearly needed and Caleb went to work doing the rest.
I can honestly say I’m proud of him. I would be regardless of whether he was good enough to play in the NBA or good enough to leave early or even good enough to take Purdue to new heights. I’d be proud of him because he’s a great story and a guy who worked his ass off (literally and figuratively) and he was able to spend some of his time working his ass off in old gold and black. For that, I say thank you to Caleb Swanigan.
He was a generational talent and not just because of his basketball skills. All the best, Caleb.