Caleb Swanigan is one of the most dominant players in college basketball.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound sophomore for the Purdue Boilermakers has been having an unstoppable season, averaging 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Swanigan’s athleticism is all the more impressive when you consider all that he’s overcome to get to this point. He spent his childhood alternating between an abusive home and a homeless shelters in Indianapolis and Utah while his father struggled with drug addiction and legal troubles, ESPN reports.
The unstable life took its toll on young Swanigan’s health. He and his family lived off of the cheapest foods available – sugary cereal, ice cream and pizza – but even that was in limited supply.
“It’s a lot more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat unhealthy,” Swanigan told ESPN.
One of six siblings, Swanigan adopted a scarcity mindset. When he had the chance to eat, he ate as much as he could.
This mindset, combined with his sweet tooth and genetic disposition to obesity (his father weighed almost 500 pounds when he died at age 50) led to increasing weight gain. By the summer before 8th grade, Swanigan weighed 400 pounds.
He loved basketball and showed athletic promise even then, but as his older brother, Carl Swanigan Jr. explained, his abilities were hampered by his weight. “He had the moves, but he just couldn’t move,” Carl Jr. said.
Concerned for his brother, Carl Jr. called Roosevelt Barnes, an AAU coach and former NFL linebacker who lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and asked him for help. Barnes agreed to take in the 13-year-old if he could adopt him and raise him as a son. The Swanigan family agreed.
With Barnes, Swanigan found the stability his life had been lacking. After a cardiologist confirmed the boy’s heart could endure stressful workouts, Barnes started an aggressive training regimen.
“The thing that impressed me was that he never quit,” Barnes said.
Barnes also helped Swanigan overhaul his diet. He quickly began losing weight and his athletic abilities increased. Swanigan eventually got down to 260 pounds and led his high school basketball team to a state title in 2015.
He graduated in just three years and became a top 10 recruit. He ultimately chose Purdue, Barnes’ alma mater, where the 19-year-old pro prospect has pulled 16 double-doubles in 20 games.
His coach Matt Painter told SB Nation that he still experiences moments of awe over how far Swanigan has come.
“It’s one of those things that helps you as a coach when adversity sets in, because he’s been through so much personally,” Painter said. “Not just losing weight. A lot of times players haven’t had a lot of adversity in their lives. They’re still young people. But he has. And he’s been able to conquer it. He takes on challenges. That’s why you’re seeing the big jump in improvement.”