It took Caleb Swanigan less than two weeks to re-open and re-close his recruitment. The five-star center and former Michigan State commit pledged to Purdue on Tuesday, one day before the end of the spring signing period.
A few weeks ago, Swanigan surprisingly committed to the Spartans over a list of schools that included the Boilermakers and Cal. His choice bolstered a recruiting class that included two top-100 prospects and strengthened Michigan State’s case as one of the top contenders in the Big Ten in 2015-16. With Swanigan, the Spartans would have had a deep frontline to go with a strong perimeter corps.
Of course, that line of thinking assumed Swanigan would honor his commitment. Swanigan never sent his National Letter of Intent to Michigan State, even though he indicated as late as April 28 that he was fully committed to the Spartans. The day before Swanigan decommitted, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, without directly addressing Swanigan, indicated he wasn’t worried about the situation.
"I really can't talk about it, but it’s ... I mean, we're kinda going through a little bit of a thing with—football’s been through it," Izzo said on the radio program The Drive with Jack Ebling when asked if he had received “the letter” from Swanigan. “So, nothing I'm worried about but I just can't talk about it, guys."
The relationship between Swanigan and Michigan State may have been more tenuous than Izzo let on. His decision marks the latest recruiting miss over the past few years for Izzo and the Spartans, who also watched Tyler Ulis (Kentucky), Tyus Jones (Duke), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Jabari Parker (Duke) and Cliff Alexander (Kansas) choose other programs in favor of the Spartans.
On a more positive note for Michigan State, there’s a chance the program could land a frontcourt transfer. Missouri leading scorer Johnathan Williams III, who was recruited by the Spartans out of high school, told the Detroit Free Press this week that he’s “definitely looking at Michigan State.” Unlike Swanigan, however, Williams would have to sit out 2015-16 before using his final two seasons of eligibility.
Losing Swanigan may dampen the excitement surrounding Michigan State after it unexpectedly reached the Final Four and appeared on the brink of reeling in a recruiting class featuring two of the top frontcourt players in the country in Davis and Swanigan. Yet the Spartans have enough depth to overcome his departure and still compete with Maryland, Indiana and others for a conference title.
Perhaps Purdue belongs in that Big Ten upper echelon with Swanigan in the fold. "Caleb wants to bring a national championship to Purdue," Swanigan’s guardian, Roosevelt Barnes, told The Indianapolis Star. "He won Mr. Basketball in Indiana and won a state championship. He wants to do the same thing for his college team at Purdue. Matt Painter is a great coach."
The Boilermakers now will have one of the most imposing frontlines in college basketball. Both 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons and 7’2’’ sophomore Isaac Haas will return from a team that went 21-13 and fell in overtime to Cincinnati in the opening round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. Sophomore forward (6’7’’) Vince Edwards will also be back.
On the perimeter, Purdue will feature senior guard Raphael Davis, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and junior guard Kendall Stephens, plus incoming backcourt recruits Ryan Cline and Grant Weatherford, both of whom were rated three-star prospects by Rivals.com. Guard Johnny Hill will join the Boilermakers as a graduate transfer from UT-Arlington.
At 6'9" and 270 pounds, Swanigan was able to use his size to overwhelm most high school competition. Still, his coach at Homestead High, Chris Johnson, praised Swanigan for his high basketball IQ, understanding of space and positioning and ability to create for others. Johnson also said Swanigan has improved his physical condition since he began high school.
“Once he gets it at the 15-to-17-foot range, he sees the floor well and is able to get other people involved,” Johnson said. He added, “You can just tell that he understands the game of basketball.” Those traits will serve Swanigan well at the next level, where he’ll face longer and more athletic frontcourt players that can more easily contest his shots around the basket.
Swanigan should excel alongside Hammons and Haas, all of whom will pose physical challenges for opposing defenders.