INDIANAPOLIS - Caleb Swanigan is facing a decision with longtime repercussions that few 20 year olds are ever confronted with.
No, not the obvious dilemma for the Purdue junior-to-be basketball star, that being whether to turn professional or not. But what does he want his legacy to be?
The former Homestead High School standout is studying general education at Purdue, but it would be more pertinent if he studied history, particularly that of the NBA Draft.
Swanigan has the very real opportunity to carve out a never-to-be-forgotten place in basketball lore at Purdue.
He also has the very real opportunity next season to be leading the Reno Bighorns against the Long Island Nets in front of 20-some people in an empty arena. Because NBA history shows, that is what happens to players in Swanigan's position.
Swanigan is projected to be – at best – a very late first round selection in the draft. Even with that scenario unfolding, history shows that those players are mostly are out of the league within a couple of years, have middling success even if they do last longer than a few seasons, and certainly don't attain life-altering wealth.
But that isn't necessarily entering the mind of Swanigan (or did it with his predecessors in this same position) at this moment.
“The NBA game suits my game a lot,” Swanigan said earlier this week following a workout with the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, “just with the movement to small ball and I'm considered an undersized guy that can shoot, but can bang with the fives.”
Being able to “bang with the fives” of Ohio State doesn't necessarily translate to success against the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially given Swanigan is less than 6-feet-8 and 260 pounds. However, what isn't an unknown commodity is the indisputable fact that he can achieve historical significance at Purdue.
Swanigan already has a Big Ten championship, Big Ten Player of the Year, and a Sweet 16 appearance on his resume and the future holds the potential for even higher accolades.
If Swanigan returns to West Lafayette for third and fourth seasons, he'll be a strong candidate for every National Player of the Year honor, as well as have the potential to lead the Boilers to their first Final Four appearance in four decades.
What price can a guy set on that? Apparently about $500,000, because that is what Swanigan will receive (after expenses and taxes) each of the next two years if he is – again, best case scenario – a late first round selection.
A couple of seasons ago, the Boilermaker program honored former Purdue great Rick Mount at a game with his own bobblehead and a ceremony in which he received an extended standing ovation at a packed Mackey Arena, all of which followed having his jersey long since retired.
Rick Mount last played in West Lafayette in 1970, yet he is still worshipped there.
Swanigan can be THAT guy. But he won't be if he leaves West Lafayette after six months of great play.
Five years ago, Indianapolis native Marquis Teague helped Kentucky win an NCAA championship in his freshman season and he chose to turn pro afterward. He was selected late in the first round (29th overall) by the Chicago Bulls.
Teague was out of the NBA in two years and suited up for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants this past winter. You think any Kentucky fans are longing for the bygone days of Marquis Teague?
Swanigan can also be THAT guy (minus the NCAA championship). And history shows that to be an accurate assessment.
Perhaps Swanigan will prove history wrong. He certainly has worked diligently to do so by putting himself in tremendous physical condition and further developing his perimeter skills. But history wins more than it loses. And history shows that reverence does indeed lay in the future for Swanigan, but it'll be in returning to West Lafayette, not leaving for the NBA.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.
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