“The Purdue basketball family is deeply saddened and devastated by the loss of Caleb Swanigan,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said in a statement. “Caleb was a very thoughtful person and a gentle soul who excelled both on and off the pitch. He made a huge difference in the lives of everyone he touched and he will be greatly missed.”
After leading his high school team to its first state title and being named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2015, Swanigan first committed himself to Michigan State before changing his mind and going to Purdue. His adoptive father, Roosevelt Barnes, was a three-sport star with the Boilermakers who played in the NFL as a linebacker and later became a sports agent.
2017 onwards: A sports agent picked up a 360-pound teenager. He became Caleb Swanigan.
As a sophomore at Purdue, Swanigan received numerous awards, including 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year honors and first-team All-American citations. He set a conference record with 28 double-doubles and led the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Very sad about that. Biggie had a positive impact on everyone’s lives. Was such a thoughtful person and a gentle soul who had to overcome so much in his life.
He will be greatly missed. https://t.co/Ivm5MiaCUm
— Purdues Matt Painter (@CoachPainter) June 21, 2022
Swanigan was then drafted 26th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, who later traded the 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward to the Sacramento Kings in a midseason 2019 trade. He was traded back to the Trail Blazers the following year, and his NBA career effectively ended when he chose not to return to Portland in 2020 in the league’s pandemic-delayed bubble near Orlando. Swanigan averaged 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in three NBA games in 75 seasons.
The Trail Blazers said they were “heartbroken” by Swanigan’s death specified Tuesday: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Caleb’s family, friends and everyone who loved him.”
They added, “Rest In Peace, Biggie,” using a nickname that dates back to Swanigan’s childhood. He experienced homelessness, which made it difficult to stick to a healthy diet, developed a sweet tooth and saw his weight reportedly reach 360 pounds before he entered eighth grade.
Barnes said in 2017 that after adopting Swanigan, he began to transform the child’s eating habits by removing sugar, salt and bread from their home.
“There were times when he cheated, but the thing is, you have to have more days when you’re winning than when you’re losing,” said Barnes, who praised Swanigan’s focus and determination. “…He had to learn to eat green stuff.”
The result was the transformation of a young man into a lean, athletic star on a major collegiate program and eventually a member of the premier league of professional basketball.
In 2021, following Swanigan’s retirement from the NBA, he pleaded guilty to drug possession charges. After a photo went viral at the time that appeared to show Swanigan had regained weight, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was said in an online comment: “You don’t know WHAT he’s going through to make a drastic change.”
Lillard added that people should show support for someone who is “a natural big guy” and has “walked a dark path.”
On Tuesday, another former teammate, Sacramento forward Harrison Barnes, tweeted“RIP Biggie.”
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Caleb Swanigan,” the Kings said. “He will be remembered as a great teammate and friend. Our hearts go out to his family at this incredibly difficult time.”
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