Caleb Swanigan: A Legacy


Over the summer, Homestead High School basketball legend Caleb Swanigan passed away at 25 years old due to natural causes. His death not only saddened the Spartan community, but his friends and family from Fort Wayne and Purdue University, as well as his professional basketball teammates on the Portland Trailblazers.
Caleb Swanigan was born on April 18, 1997, in Indianapolis. Swanigan grew up in volatile conditions, moving between Utah and Indiana multiple times. He lived in homeless shelters due to his father’s drug abuse. He attended 13 different schools by the time he was 13 years of age.
When the Swanigan family moved to Houston, Swanigan’s older brother, Carl Swanigan Jr., was worried about Caleb’s health due to his obesity. Carl called his former Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coach, Roosevelt Barnes, to help with Swanigan. Barnes adopted Caleb Swanigan and put Swanigan through workouts similar to the ones Barnes did in college. This is where Swanigan’s love for basketball started.
Caleb had one goal to achieve during his high school career: winning a state championship. In his sophomore year, the Homestead basketball team lost at semi-state. In his junior year, he reclassified as a senior. He slimmed down and took over in his final year at Homestead.
Chris Johnson, the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Homestead, said, “His goal was to win a state championship and we were able to win a state championship, and if he didn’t reclassify, we probably win another state championship.”
Johnson said it was hard to believe when he first heard of Swanigan’s passing. A mutual friend of theirs broke the news to Johnson via text message.
“Everybody knew who Caleb Swanigan was,” said Johnson. While at the Charlie Hughes Classic—a high school basketball tournament held during the summer for college coaches to look at high school talent—multiple coaches gave their condolences to Johnson.
Reflecting on his time at Homestead, Johnson will always cherish and remember the years he spent coaching Swanigan, who had a winning mentality.
Swanigan’s impact will always be remembered at Homestead. Johnson said he was a leader; he didn’t act like he was better than anyone else. He did what he was told and didn’t complain.
“You have players after Caleb [Swanigan] like Jordan Geist, [Ben] Skowronek, [Brandon] Durnell and [Jack] Ferguson to keep on coming to say ‘I got next,’” said Johnson. “He was the first to win a state championship besides gymnastics, and younger kids see that and want to be like that.”
Swanigan was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, the award for the best basketball player in the state. He was also named a McDonald’s All-American, which is an all-star game for the top high school prospects in the United States and Canada. In addition, he was named a top-20 high school recruit in the nation, and he won multiple gold medals with the United States under-17 team and under-19 team.
He officially committed to Purdue University on May 17, 2015, to continue his basketball career. Raphael Davis, one of Swanigan’s teammates at Purdue, said that Swanigan cared for the greater good. He cared about the people he was close with, and he was someone who cared about what he was doing.
“He showed me what real hard
work was… there’s levels to it and he showed me the highest level,” said Davis.
Swanigan’s work ethic was unmatched at Purdue. As a freshman, he was the hardest worker on the team.
“He was the hardest worker on the team so it was easy to work with him,” said Davis.
He wanted to achieve the same thing at Purdue that he did at Homestead: winning a national championship with a school that hasn’t had much success.
“He never cared about how many points he scored,” said Davis.
Swanigan stayed for two years before entering his name in the NBA Draft, and during those two years, he left his mark at Purdue.
He broke multiple records, won the Big Ten regular season championship and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament. He was also later named to the Third Team of the Big Ten All-Decade Team in 2020.
On June 22, 2017, Caleb Swanigan was drafted 26th overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Draft.
On draft night, Swanigan said, “Being selected tonight in the NBA Draft is a dream come true. I have been thinking of this moment for a long time. I know this is only the first step in my professional career, but I am extremely excited to begin this journey.”
He participated in the NBA Summer League, an off-season competition where young players adapt to the next level. He earned All-Summer League First Team honors. He bounced around the NBA G-League from 2017 to 2020, and finally returned to the Portland Trailblazers before the Covid-19 pandemic. He quit basketball once the pandemic hit due to personal reasons.
“He should be viewed for his best moments which was when he was making people happy,” said Davis. “His work ethic and story will be remembered for a long time… his basketball circle will make sure his story lives on.”