FORT WAYNE – There’s no ambiguity in Caleb Swanigan’s nickname, it pretty much says it all. The Homestead sophomore center is known to many as Biggie. And it isn’t one of those ironic nicknames.
There’s a reason, a pretty big reason, he’s been given that moniker. Swanigan is 6-foot-8 and weighs 275 pounds.
The same nickname could also apply to New Haven senior Steve McElvene, who goes 7-foot, 285.
Two of the best big men in the state take up the space in the paint in the NHC and Allen County.
Under the rim and rebounding it definitely helps because I can carve out space, Swanigan said of his size advantage against most players. Even when people are going to the basket, I can carve out space and open up the lane for them. Even on defense, I don’t need to jump, I can just body up a lot of guys that they can’t get through.
Both of them are agile and possess skills not always seen in a bigger player.
I have not always been taller than most players but most of the time I have been stronger than other people, Swanigan said. That’s just because I have been working on my strength and my size.
A lot of that (other skills) came from playing on the playgrounds growing up. If you were a big man and couldn’t dribble, they were just going to take it from you.
New Haven coach Al Gooden, a veteran leader at Harding now with the Bulldogs, said he has never had a player with McElvene’s all-around size before.
We have never had anyone who was a legit 7-footer, Gooden said. Steve is a big kid, not only height-wise but weight-wise. That’s a good plus. Once he gets stronger, he will be much better.
Last year, Swanigan averaged 15 points and a northeast Indiana-best 11.5 rebounds per game, while McElvene got off to a slow start but finished with averages of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The advantage for us is we can score easy buckets down low, Homestead coach Chris Johnson said of Swanigan. We are very fortunate with him, and he has improved tremendously from where he was last year.
And no surprise, the offense will more often than not run through these guys.
We had to change our offense a little bit from where we were a couple of years ago, said Johnson, with the Spartans going from a 5-out, dribble-drive, shoot the 3-pointer offense to one that will pound the ball inside and go inside-out with ball movement. It’s a little bit of an adjustment for us as coaches, but our job is to make sure we get the ball to the right people.
Besides their size, the two centers have something else in common. They are both new to the area. Each of them came to their respective schools from out of state a couple of years ago – McElvene from Alabama and Swanigan from Utah.
The adjustment was just getting into shape, said Swanigan, who flirted with the idea of returning to Utah during the summer. I came over from Utah and I was 6-4, 340.
McElvene said his landing with the Bulldogs was no coincidence. He wanted to play for Gooden, who knows about coaching big men.
It was very hard because my coaches (in Talladega, Ala.) didn’t know how to coach a big man like myself at first, McElvene said of the move to Indiana. I asked people about what school (in Fort Wayne) I should go to, and they said New Haven has the best big-man coach around. That’s what I took into consideration, and that’s where I ended up.
And not that it is hard to do, but college coaches have taken notice of the two as well.
After a strong showing in last season’s regional and during the summer circuit, McElvene signed with Dayton.
It is things we had been trying to teach him, and it finally took effect, Gooden said of McElvene’s late blooming. He remembered those things, and in the moment he can go back to those things.
Swanigan has offers from Pitt, Georgetown, Michigan State, Illinois, Tennessee and Chicago State. There’s also interest from Purdue, Indiana and Michigan.
It’s neat to see that and put Homestead on the map a little bit where we have a big-time player, Johnson said.
Swanigan said he is looking forward to taking in college basketball Midnight Madness opening practices and games in the next couple years.
For recruitment this year, it’s a blessing to have guys like Trevon Bluiett and Trey Lyles who have seen it all at this level, Swanigan said of his AAU teammates. It’s easier to talk to them when it comes to recruiting.
McElvene helped lead the Bulldogs past the Swanigan-led Spartans 82-70 last year in the regular season and 80-71 in the sectional finals. The first rematch is set for Feb. 8 at Homestead.
Swanigan had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the first matchup, while McElvene 18 points and 16 rebounds in the second game.
It was a good battle, Gooden said. Offensively, Caleb is a little more polished. I like to see battles like that. I am a big man myself. I enjoy stuff like that.