It might please Purdue basketball fans to know Caleb Swanigan is still using first-person plural pronouns when discussing college. Such as when asked about the reasons for returning for his junior season and he brings up wanting to win a national championship.
“That’s going to be our goal, and that’s how we’re going to carry ourselves, just like last year,” he said.
One doesn’t have to read between the lines to realize Swanigan hasn’t yet given his heart to the NBA, even when it appears he’s donated his body to it. He put it right out there in black and white following his workout for the Pacers Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Quite simply, he’s undecided about whether he’ll withdraw his name from draft consideration or forego the final two seasons of his college career and turn pro.
He has until midnight on May 24 to decide, and talked as if he’ll wait until the last day or two, if not the last minute or two, to reach a conclusion.
Last year, he made it clear before his draft workouts that his goal was to be drafted in the first or second round, and if he was convinced that would happen he was gone. He needed to hear a good reason not to go to the NBA. Now, he needs to hear a good reason to leave college.
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That good reason would be the assurance he’ll be drafted in the first round and receive a guaranteed contract. While the decision was made for him last year, when NBA teams provided overwhelming feedback that he wasn’t ready for the league and would not be drafted, he’s currently projected on the bubble of the first round. He likely would go late in the first round or early in the second if he stays in the draft. His fate will hinge on his performance in the pre-draft workouts and how many other prospects stay in the draft.
“Any kid who wants to play in the NBA, you should take it if you hear (you’ll go in the first round), but at the same time guys like (Tim) Duncan, Klay Thompson, Steph (Curry), they stayed three years in college, so there’s no rush,” he said. “It’s more me feeling that team is serious about me and actually has a plan for me.”
And it will take time for that to happen.
“I just started to go through this NBA process. It would take news to make me leave Purdue. I’m at Purdue right now. I’m still enrolled.”
Told it sounds as if he’s more interested in going back to college this year than last, he agreed.
“I’m not in a rush this year,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing. It’s still early.”
Why the change?
“More maturation and less sense of entitlement,” he said.
Swanigan said he plans to take a math class and perhaps a Spanish class this summer. If he enrolls next semester he would need just eight hours the second semester to achieve his degree, and the degree is important to him. “There’s no reason to be this close and not go get it,” he said. “Especially when it’s been paid for.”
Meanwhile, he’ll give this NBA thing another whirl. He attended the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago last week, although he did not participate in the five-on-five scrimmages. Monday’s workout was his first for an NBA team. He’ll be in Brooklyn on Thursday, with more to follow.
It’s impossible to report on Monday’s workout, which came 51 Mondays after last season’s workout for the Pacers. With 28 media members from Indianapolis, Lafayette and his hometown of Fort Wayne on hand, he was only seen shooting free throws and 3-pointers. He shot well. Not great, not poorly.
He spent a few minutes with former team president Larry Bird, conducted a live radio interview on a borrowed cell phone, and then faced the media horde for an 11-minute conversation.
He said he was happy he returned to Purdue for his sophomore season. Said it felt “surreal” to be working out in The Fieldhouse, after living in homeless shelters in Indianapolis at one point in his young life. Said he’s lost 10 pounds since the end of his college season from postseason workouts in Orlando and is at his target weight. Said NBA teams have told him he needs to shoot more consistently, finish around the basket at a higher rate, involve teammates more. Said he hasn’t grown tired of telling his compelling story of overcoming homelessness and ballooning to more than 350 pounds. Said he didn’t agree to be tested for body fat in Chicago because he has extra skin from his former weight problem, which gives an inaccurate result from the “pinch test.” Said he would like to play for the Pacers, having followed the careers of former players such as Jermaine O’Neal, David West, and Ron Artest.
“Just being a Hoosier, there’s a lot of support (from) growing up here,” he said.
Swanigan’s story and heritage won’t help him succeed at the next level, however, wherever that is. Neither will the fact he was a first-team All-American at Purdue last season, and the college Player of the Year in some circles. Now, it’s all about proving he can produce in the NBA.
He’s an intriguing prospect, and difficult to project. Is he a classic tweener who is too short (he measured 6-8 ½ in shoes in Chicago) to operate effectively around the basket, but not quick enough to defend or create shots on the perimeter? Or, would he be able to take taller players away from the basket and knock down 3-pointers and dominate smaller players in the low post?
He has until May 24 to determine to whom “our” and “we” will refer next season. Or, for the NBA to decide for him.
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