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  • Caleb Swanigan, who earned All-American honors in leading Purdue to the Big Ten regular-season title, was chosen by Portland in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Friday, June 23, 2017 1:00 am

Blazers choose Biggie in 1st round

All-American says goal NBA All-Star

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

Caleb Swanigan's NBA career will begin in Portland, Oregon, more than 2,000 miles from Fort Wayne, his beloved hometown.

After becoming a first-round draft choice of the Trail Blazers on Thursday night, the Homestead graduate admitted this moment was impossible to imagine when he weighed more than 350 pounds prior to eighth grade. Heading to Portland is the culmination of a journey that took Swanigan from state champion at Homestead to All-American at Purdue.

“It's next goal, next place, next achievement,” Swanigan said. “I'm trying to be an NBA All-Star. That's my next objective.”

A full-throated cheer erupted at the Landmark Centre, where Swanigan watched the draft and learned, along with family and friends, that he had been selected with the 26th pick.

“I know how much work he has put in,” said Roosevelt Barnes, who adopted Swanigan as a teenager and moved him to Fort Wayne. “Just thinking back to when he first came, there were a lot of doubters. Some people said he wouldn't even make his eighth-grade team because he was so heavy, but we always believed. We always had faith. That's what brought us through.”

Swanigan averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in the 2016-17 season at Purdue. He decided to leave college after his sophomore year despite most mock drafts putting him in the second round. Turns out, those were wrong.

The Blazers, who less than two weeks ago brought Swanigan in for a workout, invested part of their future in him.

“I was pretty sure Portland really liked him,” Barnes said. “They pretty much told me that if he got to 26 that he wouldn't get past them, but it was still a long wait. It's a relief to know he's fulfilled his dream. When you love your kids, when you're a parent, you want to give them everything that they ever want.”

Portland went 41-41 and made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference but was swept by top-seeded Golden State in the first round.

Purdue coach Matt Painter and many of Swanigan's college teammates attended his party Thursday. Swanigan mentioned he had it in Fort Wayne because “it takes a village to raise a kid.”

That kid, “Biggie,” is now in the NBA.

“The fact that he went where he went, we're happy, but he should have been the first pick in the draft,” Barnes said. “Everybody talks about Lonzo Ball and the rest of those guys. Five years from now, when everybody re-evaluates this thing, Biggie will be the best player in the draft when it's all said and done.”

cgoff@jg.net