By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Caleb Swanigan looks and sounds like a different basketball player this May.
He’s nearly 11 pounds lighter than the Indiana Pacers’ listed him for Monday’s draft workout, down almost 15 pounds from his freshman playing weight at Purdue and appears to be in the best shape of his life. He continues to fine-tune his 3-point shooting, but he is still trying to figure out a possible fit in the NBA — and he could return for his junior year with the Boilermakers.
“I can play against the fours and I can play against the fives and I really want to get good at defending the threes,” the Big Ten player of the year said. “I’m kind of an undersized, but I can bang and I can play.”
Swanigan understands the irony of being tabbed “undersized” today.
Before starting eighth grade, he tipped the scales at almost 360 pounds. Back then, many wondered whether “Biggie” would ever find the self-control to end his craving for desserts and become more than just a wide-bodied rebounder. Things finally changed when former Purdue football star Roosevelt Barnes adopted Swanigan and brought him to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Barnes’ sports agency is based.
Over the next four years, Swanigan not only slimmed down but also emerged as one of the best players in a state rife with basketball talent. He was named Mr. Basketball in 2015 and signed with Purdue after originally committing to Michigan State.
Swanigan has told the tale so often he’s grown weary of it. But the weight issue never really has gone away.
“They all start with that,” Swanigan said, when asked about interviewing with NBA teams. “It’s my story, and if helps people, I have no problem telling it. But teams want to hear it from me rather than from someone else.”
While he led the nation last season in double-doubles and finished second nationally in rebounding, Swanigan refused to undergo the body fat test at the combine after measuring in at 6-foot-8 and 246 pounds.
“It just doesn’t benefit me,” Swanigan said. “I used to be 350, so I have a lot of extra skin and that’s what they measure, the skin.”
Regardless, the diet and work regimen Purdue’s trainers came up with has worked.
Swanigan acknowledged Monday that by sticking to the plan, he’s lost another 10 pounds since March’s season-ending loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament — giving the suddenly svelte Swanigan the look of a stretch four.
“I feel good, I’m moving well, it’s helping me compete night in and night out,” he said.
Scouts will watch closely to see if a leaner Swanigan will be quick enough to defend on the perimeter and consistent enough from the 3-point line to bring defenders out of the paint.
A strong showing late in Monday’s workout was apparently good enough to warrant a personal conversation with Larry Bird.
But Swanigan still wants input from additional workouts before making a decision by the May 24 deadline to stay eligible for the June draft.
“It would take news for me to leave Purdue,” he said. “I think anyone who wants to play in the NBA and hears something like that (being a first-round pick), should take it. But guys like Klay (Thompson) and Steph (Curry) played three years in college, so there’s no rush.”
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