The details of Caleb Swanigan’s path to selection by the Trail Blazers in last month’s NBA Draft is truly astonishing, but it is only the beginning of a bright professional career, according to the 20-year-old big man.
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune spoke with the rookie earlier this week about what it means to finally make it to the NBA, and the expectations that Swanigan has for himself as a member of the Blazers.
After a struggle with poverty and obesity as a child, Swanigan views his first-round selection as a significant accomplishment, but the former Purdue standout is clearly not ready to let that be the high-water mark of his basketball career, as he states that he has lofty goals for his future.
"I've hit a milestone, making it here," Swanigan, who turned 20 on April 18, said Tuesday after the first practice of the Portland entry to the Las Vegas Summer League. "My dream is to be one of the best best 'bigs' ever. I haven't accomplished it yet. I have a long way to go, but I've hit a big milestone just to get this opportunity."
In order to reach that goal, Swanigan must continue to quell the urge to stray from his current lifestyle. His rise to prominence directly correlated with his ability to shed weight, and he understands that it is a battle he must continue fighting as a professional.
"It's a daily thing," he said. "If I take a week or two off, I have the type of body where I'll gain weight. That's why I don't take weeks off. I keep going."
"I'm still human. But I know what I'm eating. I know enough that I won't eat the bad stuff every day non-stop. Maybe some candy once or twice one day, but nothing the next few days. It can't be an every-day routine.”
With his commitment to his craft and health in mind, Swanigan is optimistic he will be able to impact the game on both ends of the court.
While Swanigan sees himself as more of post presence, he had this to say about his ability to stretch the floor:
"I see myself as a shot-maker," he said. "You leave me open, I'm going to hit it. I'm not going to look for 3's. I don't care to shoot them, because I know what I'm good at. I'm going to work you down low. But if you leave me open, I'm going to make you honor it."
On defense, he emphasizes his ability to maintain proper positioning in order help out his teammates.
"You're going to see a really good off-the-ball guy," he said. "You don't hear that often. There's a lot of focus on on-the-ball defense. But if you're good off the ball, that's going to help your team a lot, because you're in the right place at the right time."
Due to Swanigan’s skills and stature, he has been on the receiving end of some comparisons to former Blazers power forward Zach Randolph. They both share Indiana roots, and Swanigan will wear the No. 50 in Portland—the same number that Randolph wore in his six-year stint with the Blazers.
When asked about the comparisons, Swanigan revealed that he admires Randolph and his style of play. Along with his admiration for the former Blazers big man, he also appreciates the teams that Randolph was a part of in Portland.
"I've met Zach before," Swanigan said. "I've talked to him a couple of times. Good dude.”
"The way 'Z-Bo' plays, I take from that era. I like the toughness of it. I liked all the old Blazers — Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, who was from Indiana, too.”
While Swanigan’s favorable comparison to Randolph is encouraging, it is his work ethic that caught the eye of Portland’s coaching staff.
"Caleb is a very hard worker," said assistant coach Jim Moran, who will run the team in Las Vegas. "He is in the gym all the time. That's one thing that has impressed us as a coaching staff. He works. He is very respectful, he listens, he does what he is told.”
"His work ethic is going to take him a lot of places. He has the talent, but he loves to put in the time. When you spend that much time working on your craft, you can't help but get better. He's going to be great in (September) training camp. We're going to have a lot of battles with our bigs. The competition is going to be great."
Fans will get their first look at Swanigan later this week, as the Blazers start their Summer League schedule on Saturday.
You can read Eggers’ full story on Swanigan by visiting the Portland Tribune.