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Last updated: Tue. Jan. 07, 2014 - 09:36 am EDT

Homestead's Caleb Swanigan growing up quickly

The sophomore sensation has improved as a player and as a leader

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At 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, Caleb Swanigan looks like a man among boys on the basketball court. He towers over most players, with the ones who can match up in height rarely matching his physicality.

His touch around the basket is exceptional, and he looks lighter on his feet than a season ago.

Yet with all the hype surrounding Swanigan – including his lofty No. 16 ranking in the Class of 2016 according to ESPN.com – it is easy to forget that "Biggie" is only 16 years old and a high school sophomore.

He is still growing – into his body, as a person and as a young leader of an inexperienced team.

“He listens (and) he does what we ask him to do,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “It's just a matter of continuing to work hard, continue to improve upon his skills because he is only a sophomore. Sometimes we forget that, even myself.

“He is 16 years old; we expect him to do a lot of things.”

On a young Homestead team with just two players back with significant varsity experience in senior Joe Ault and Swanigan, the five-star prospect has had to speed up his maturation process and take more of a leadership role than a typical sophomore would.

In last week's game against Concordia Lutheran, Swanigan was vocal when the Spartans set up in their zone defense, pointing out proper positioning to teammates and making sure everyone was on the same page.

“What gets hard is when you get tired and you just want to do your job but you got to help the other guys out and be the team leader,” Swanigan said. “So when you get tired that's when it gets tough to be a verbal leader because you just want to get air through your body but you have to talk still.”

That role has been helped by Swanigan's improved stamina this season as well as his physical frame. Gone from a year ago is a majority of the baby fat that is customary for a big but young player who is still growing into his body.

Swanigan said he lost 10 pounds of fat over the summer while increasing his muscle mass.

“I am a lot stronger,” Swanigan said. “(Probably) two times stronger than I was last year.”

Swanigan has felt the expectations to perform change for him as well. Last year, he was a talented freshman who could be forgiven for rookie mistakes on a team loaded with seniors. Now, the spotlight is on him.

“It is different … because it is not my first time like, 'Oh, he is just a freshman doing this,'” Swanigan said. “Now, it is like it is expected of me to do well.”

In terms of recruiting, things have settled down for him during the high school season after a whirlwind of conversations and offers in the summer. He said Michigan State and Pittsburgh have been talking to him the most lately.

He does not have any leaders at this time, with official offers from Georgetown, Georgia State, Tennessee, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Illinois.

Right now, Swanigan is focused on growing as a leader on and off the court, even if he is still so young.

“He will continue to get better,” Johnson said. “We are fortunate here at Homestead to have him.”

jkenny@news-sentinel.com


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