Former Purdue standout and 2016-17 consensus First Team All-American Caleb Swanigan died Monday, the school announced. The family confirmed the death. He was 25.
Swanigan was also the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2017, following a season in which he averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists for a Purdue team that went 27-8 and made the Sweet 16. Swanigan, a former McDonald’s All-American, parlayed his dominant sophomore campaign to early entry into the NBA Draft. He was selected 26th overall in 2017 by the Portland Trail Blazers, where he played for two seasons.
The 6-foot-9 power forward spent time in the G League before making his way back to play 10 games for the Sacramento Kings in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He finished his playing career with the Trail Blazers, playing 20 more games for Portland during the 2019-20 season. Swanigan’s battle with weight gain eventually led to him leaving basketball. He pursued a vocation in rap music thereafter — long before that, he lovingly took on the nickname “Biggie” — though Swanigan also gained notoriety for his ongoing health issues, and a drug charge in 2021, following his departure from the NBA.
“The Purdue basketball family is deeply saddened and devastated at the loss of Caleb Swanigan,” Purdue 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.”
Swanigan died of natural causes, according to Fort Wayne, Indiana, TV station WANE, which cited the Allen County Coroner’s Office.
Swanigan was open about his unstable situation growing up. His father was a crack cocaine user. He had spurts where he lived in homeless shelters five times, according to an ESPN story from 2017, and also fluctuated between living in Indiana and Utah, where his mother lived. Swanigan’s father, Carl, died from diabetes-related causes in 2014, prior to Caleb enrolling at Purdue. Swanigan’s path to Purdue was carved when former Purdue star Roosevelt Barnes, who coached Swanigan in grassroots basketball, took him in and became his guardian in Fort Wayne. Barnes adopted Swanigan as he entered his teen years. It was that decision that led Swanigan down a path in basketball that turned him into one of the best high school prospects in the country.
“During his NBA career, Swanigan worked extensively with Portland-area youth and FoodCorps to promote healthy eating habits in schools and eliminate child hunger,” Purdue’s statement said.
Former teammates of Swanigan’s have quickly taken to social media to express their grief, including Vincent Edwards, who played with Swanigan at Purdue and posted images of their time together as Boilermakers.