Purdue All-American Caleb Swanigan Has Died

posted by vicky684 about 14 days ago
Purdue All-American Caleb Swanigan Has Died
The story was told to us over and over again. From 2015 to 2017, whenever Purdue played basketball, we heard about it. And that was fine because the story was good. It was the story of a young man who grew up in a hard place, including homeless shelters and moving back and forth between Utah and Indiana with a mother trying her best to take care of six kids and a father who was addicted to drugs. It was the story of a young man who loved desserts, especially cheesecake, and who seemed to comfort himself with food when bad things happened. In the end, he weighed 360 pounds before he started high school. But then something went wrong.

Caleb Swanigan was only 13 years old when former Purdue football player Roosevelt Barnes took him under his wing, adopted him, and moved him to Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the request of Caleb's older brother. Barnes knew what it took to be successful on and off the field, and he wanted Caleb to have the same drive. Swanigan did not like football like his adopted father did, though. No, basketball was what he played. Even though he weighed more than 300 pounds, he was good at what he did. Barnes saw something that he thought could change Swanigan's life.

So the work got started. When you are in the eighth grade and you are 6'2 and 360 pounds, you are probably the biggest of your classmates in more ways than one. So he got the name Biggie. Those who have tried to lose weight before know how hard it can be. It takes effort to not only work out but also eat well. It is so important to eat well. And for someone who has lived with not enough food and a situation that is hard to understand, it can be very hard. In a story that was put on ESPN, In January 2017, Swanigan himself talked about how hard it is to eat well:

"You might think it is a small thing, but it just adds up," he said. "One bad meal will not kill you, but eating three or four bad meals in a row will start to hurt your body."

So, Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan started to get a little less, well, big, with the help of Harrison Barnes. Swanigan worked hard to become a basketball star in high school and a highly sought-after college player. After signing to play for the Michigan State Spartans, he changed his mind and decided to play for the Purdue Boilermakers instead. Swanigan would go on to be invited to the McDonald's All-American game and be called Indiana's Mr. Basketball. Incredible things that Caleb Swanigan would have thought were impossible just five years ago.

Swanigan made an immediate impact at Purdue. His best skill was probably being able to get the ball back. No one wanted the ball more after it fell off the rim than he did, and if you wanted it, you had to go through him. He was also a good scorer, but that was not as good as his rebounding. In his first game in college, he scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He ended up with 10 or more rebounds in 40 of the 69 games he played in college. During his sophomore year, he had four games where he got 20 or more rebounds. If we look at that second year by itself, it was even more special. Forget about those 40 games with 10 or more rebounds that I mentioned above. Instead, look at his sophomore year and you will see that he had 29 games with 10 or more rebounds out of only 35. Six times in a whole season, he did not get more than 10 rebounds. It is unlike anything I have ever seen or am likely to see again. He was the best ever at finding the ball. At the college level, rebounding is all about how hard you try. And for a guy who changed his whole body and his whole life, there was never a lack of effort.

After Swanigan's great season, he became the first Purdue player in six years to be named a consensus All-American. The Purdue sports release about this accomplishment explains how great this team's second year was:

Swanigan had one of the best statistical seasons in Purdue and NCAA history, which helped him make the first team. Swanigan averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He shot 52.7 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from 3-point range, and 78.1 percent from the line.

He is the only player at a major college (and one of only two players overall) to score 600 points, get 400 rebounds, and give out 100 assists in a single season. The other player was Jerrelle Benimon of Towson in 2013-14. He is the only player in the last 25 years besides Wake Forest's legendary Tim Duncan to average at least 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3 assists in a season.

Swanigan is the only player in the last 31 years (since the 1985-86 season) to have at least 640 points, 430 rebounds, and 100 assists.

His 28 double-doubles are the most ever for a player in the Big Ten and the 13th most ever in the NCAA. He leads the country in this category. He had almost 100 more rebounds than the next best player, Joe Barry Carroll, who had 352. He also had 10 more double-doubles than any other player in Purdue history.

He did the smart thing by entering the NBA Draft after this season. The Portland Trailblazers picked him 26th overall in the first round. He had done the unimaginable. The young man who weighed almost 400 pounds changed his body and his mind and was picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. It is a fairy tale. It is something that you almost would not believe if you had not seen it with your own eyes. Something that seemed like it was too good to be true. I guess we know now that in some ways it was.

We were not there when it happened, so we did not see it. We do not know what brought Caleb Swanigan back to the dark path he seemed to have left behind. I will not try to make guesses, but I will say that the Covid-19 pandemic caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. Swanigan seemed to do well with the structure that Roosevelt Barnes, Purdue Basketball, and the NBA system gave him. The NBA Bubble was the first time we noticed a change. Even though the Trailblazers were going to the bubble, Caleb Swanigan did not go with them. He said he had personal reasons for not going.

You probably know what happened after that. You heard about the arrest and saw the mugshot, which showed that the person had gained a lot of weight, and you wished it was not true. But, unfortunately, everything was true. Caleb Swanigan, the young man who had worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to get away from a life of drugs and overeating and find stability, was now in the situation that many people had long feared would be his fate. With a father who weighed more than 500 pounds, used drugs, and had diabetes, he must have lived under a dark cloud all his life. He had outrun it for a number of years. He had overcome the problems of his childhood to become something most of us can only dream of. He played in the NBA, was an All-American, and had his jersey retired at a big college. It was not enough, unfortunately.

For a long time, addiction has been the biggest problem in this country. It has taken too many lives too soon, and there is no end in sight. When things like this happen, people always wonder why someone would do this to themselves, what hurt they were trying to forget, or what pain they were trying to stop feeling. It is clear that Caleb Swanigan had a lot to try to forget, a lot of pain to try to dull, and a family history to try to get away from. History has shown us that even the fastest runners slow down and that even the best of us can have trouble.

Caleb Swanigan has finished the race. Early this morning, it was reported that he had died at age 25. The details are still coming out, but the first reports say that the person died of natural causes. No matter what happened, it is sad. His Purdue teammates started talking about it on Twitter this morning. The young man who had been through so much and put everything out on the floor every night was gone.

Caleb Swanigan's life was an amazing story with a lot of high points. After he was arrested, I wanted Swanigan to do what he did best, which was to get back on his feet. To see what the next move is and jump up to get it. That did not work out. Now, the life that had all the elements of an inspiring story ends not with cheers but with tears.
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