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Caleb Swanigan, former Purdue star and NBA player, dies at 25

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Former NBA player and Purdue standout Caleb Swanigan has died at age 25, his family announced Tuesday through the Boilermakers.

Swanigan died Monday of natural causes at a hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind., according to the Allen County Coroner’s Office (via the Associated Press). Swanigan came of age in Fort Wayne, where, with the help of his adoptive father, he shed more than 100 pounds and emerged as a top high school talent.

“The Purdue basketball family is deeply saddened and devastated at the loss of Caleb Swanigan,” Boilermakers Coach Matt Painter said in a statement. “Caleb was a very thoughtful individual and a gentle soul who excelled both on and off the court. He made a huge difference in everyone’s lives that 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 initially committed to Michigan State before changing his mind and heading 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.

From 2017: A sports agent took in a 360-pound teenager. He became Caleb Swanigan.

As a sophomore at Purdue, Swanigan earned numerous accolades, including the 2017 Big Ten player of the year award and first-team all-American citations. He set a conference record with 28 double-doubles and led the Boilermakers to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

Swanigan was then drafted 26th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, who later dealt the 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward to the Sacramento Kings in a 2019 midseason trade. He was traded back to the Trail Blazers the following year, and his NBA career effectively ended when he opted out of rejoining Portland at the league’s pandemic-delayed bubble near Orlando in 2020. Swanigan averaged 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds over 75 games in three NBA seasons.

Saying they were “heartbroken” by Swanigan’s passing, the Trail Blazers stated Tuesday, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Caleb’s family, friends and all 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 adhere to a healthy eating regimen, developed a sweet tooth and saw his weight reportedly reach 360 pounds before he started eighth grade.

Barnes said in 2017 that after he adopted Swanigan, he began to reshape the child’s eating habits by removing sugar, salt and bread from their home.

“There were times when he would cheat, but the thing is you have to have more days when you win than when you lose,” Barnes, who praised Swanigan’s focus and determination, said then. “ … He had to learn to eat stuff that’s green.”

The result was a young man’s transformation into a lean, athletic star at a major college program and, eventually, a member of professional basketball’s foremost league.

Following Swanigan’s departure from the NBA, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession charge in 2021. After a photo went viral around that time appearing to show that Swanigan had regained weight, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said in an online comment, “You don’t know WHAT it is he’s going through to cause a drastic change.”

Lillard added then that people should show support for someone who was “naturally a big dude” and had gone “down a dark road.”

On Tuesday, another former teammate, Sacramento forward Harrison Barnes, tweeted, “RIP Biggie.”

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Caleb Swanigan,” the Kings said. “He will be remembered as a great teammate and friend. Our hearts are with his family during this incredibly difficult time.”

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