The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 6:34 am

Analysis: For Purdue, the Biggie didn't get away

By Jeff Washburn Special to The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE -- The biggie -- as in McDonald's All-American Caleb Swanigan -- didn't get away from Purdue this time.

Indiana's 2015 Mr. Basketball from Homestead ended a lengthy and at times complicated recruiting journey on Tuesday when he announced, via Twitter, that he will attend Purdue and join A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards in what should be the Big Ten's finest front line as well as one of the country's best.

Swanigan, who averaged 22.6 points and 13.7 rebounds in leading Homestead to the 2015 Class 4A state championship, is the first Indiana Mr. Basketball to sign with Purdue since Glenn Robinson in 1991.

The 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward is ranked eighth nationally in the Class of 2015 by ESPN, 11th by Scout and 17th by Rivals. He originally announced he would attend Michigan State but then changed his mind on May 8.

While Kentucky, California and Duke also were in hot pursuit, Purdue will be getting one of the country's most coveted graduating high school seniors, ending a string of near misses on the recruiting trail for coach Matt Painter and the Boilermakers.

Guard Gary Harris, a former Mr. Basketball from Hamilton Southeastern, whose mother, Joy Holmes Harris, was a star for the Boilermaker women's program, and forward Branden Dawson, a forward from Gary, selected Michigan State in intense recruiting battles with Purdue.

Glenn Robinson III opted to play at Michigan, away from his father's large shadow in West Lafayette.

Center Derek Willis from the Louisville area first picked Purdue, but then signed with Kentucky. Former Stanford star guard Chasson Randle liked Purdue a lot but opted to take his skills to Palo Alto, California.

Not this time.

Recruiting has been difficult in recent years for the Boilermakers, but Painter and his staff hit a home run, building a strong relationship with Swanigan, whose guardian, Roosevelt Barnes, played basketball and football at Purdue after a stellar high school career in Fort Wayne.

So just what does the addition of Swanigan mean for Purdue's roster?

The Boilermakers now are loaded in the front court with 7-footers Hammons and Haas at center, and Swanigan and 6-7 Vince Edwards as the likely power forwards, although the addition of Swanigan should allow Edwards to slide over and play small forward from time to time.

Senior Rapheal Davis, another Fort Wayne product, returns as Purdue's starting small forward after earning the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015.

The shooting guard position is well stocked with Dakota Mathias and Kendall Stephens, who will be joined by incoming freshman Ryan Cline, a Carmel native who finished second to Swanigan in the Mr. Basketball voting.

While four positions are well stocked -- we will get to what Painter will do with junior Basil Smotherman and redshirt freshman Jacquil Taylor in a moment -- the key to Purdue's success will be the production the Boilermakers get from the point-guard slot.

Sophomore P.J. Thompson was the primary backup to Jon Octeus during the 2014-15 season, and showed flashes of potential, but may not be ready to direct such a talented cast.

The ball literally may be handed to fifth-year graduate student transfer Johnny Hill, a 6-3 point guard who began his career at Illinois State before transferring to Texas-Arlington, where he averaged 10.1 points and almost four assists before his 2014-15 season was cut short by a wrist injury, limiting him to 21 games.

Former Fort Wayne Northrop standout Bryson Scott would have been a candidate for the starting point guard position, but after playing limited minutes during the Big Ten season he announced he was leaving the program and now is considering IPFW, IUPUI and Wisconsin-Green Bay as landing spots.

How well the combination of Hill and Thompson performs likely will determine whether Purdue challenges for a Big Ten title and makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Freshman Grant Weatherford from Hamilton Heights will be another point guard option, but likely is not ready to play that position as a first-year college player.

There really are no losers for Purdue with the addition of Swanigan, but it will be difficult for Smotherman and Taylor to receive lots of playing time.

Smotherman had several good games last season, when Purdue finished 21-13 and tied for third in the Big Ten before losing to Cincinnati in a second-round NCAA tournament game. But with Swanigan, Edwards and Davis -- likely three of the Boilermakers top five players in 2015-16 -- all slotted for minutes at the forward positions, Smotherman's playing time is not likely to increase.

And Taylor, who is coming off injuries and a redshirt season, will find it difficult to get on the court barring an injury to one of those who will be slotted ahead of him on the depth chart.

Swanigan certainly will get lots of minutes, and Edwards and Davis will be on the court more often than they will be on the bench. With Smotherman and Taylor, Purdue has lots of depth on the front line.

While Maryland likely will be the preseason favorite to win the 2016 Big Ten title, there is enough size and skill on the Purdue roster to believe the Boilermakers will be right there, pushing the Terrapins throughout January, February and March if the point guard play is consistent.

It is a great day for Painter, who appears to have the Boilermakers back on track after back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2013 and 2014, each time finishing at sub-.500.

Thanks in large part to Davis, Edwards, Hammons and Octeus, Purdue made big strides in 2014-15, returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Robbie Hummel completed his athletic eligibility in 2012.

Now, with the addition of Biggie, expectations for 2015-16 will be, to say the very least, very big in West Lafayette. This time, the big one did not get away from Purdue.


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