There were some impressive moments and a few missteps, but in general, Caleb Swanigan's high school basketball debut was a success on Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-7, 285 pound Homestead freshman scored 10 points and added seven rebounds in the Spartans' 48-42 victory over Huntington North to open the regular season.
Modest numbers for a player with the amount of hype surrounding him, but it is just a starting point for the big man.
“I played pretty well, but the first game is always the toughest,” Swanigan said. “I felt pretty comfortable out there.”
Swanigan moved to Indiana from Utah a year ago and played basketball at Woodside Middle School as an eighth grader. Now, the talented freshman is starting for a team that won 23 games last season.
“We just have to get used to each other as a team,” Swanigan said. “As our chemistry goes, we will get better.”
Swanigan finished 5-for-5 from the field and should have had more opportunities to put the ball in the bucket, but the Spartans are still getting used to playing with a threat inside. Swanigan was consistently able to get position against the leaner Vikings, but was double- and sometimes triple-teamed once he received the ball. Defensively, he was able to alter several shots by Huntington North.
“It was awfully tough for him to get open,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “Defensively, he has to work harder to get his legs down a little lower to get wider. But this is his first high school game, he is 14-15 years old and we have to understand that.”
Swanigan's teammates also have to understand that they have one of the elite freshman big men in the country inside. Many times Johnson was pleading with his team to lob the ball over the Huntington North defense into Swanigan, but instead chose to shoot quick shots off the dribble.
The decision making nearly cost Homestead the game, with the Vikings erasing a 17-point third-quarter deficit to get to within four later in the fourth.
“We have to get to where we can go inside-out, and when teams collapse on Caleb, we can set our feet and make shots from outside,” Johnson said. “I think we took too many quick shots (on Wednesday), but we will improve on that.”
Swanigan also hopes to improve on his defense in crunch time. While he showed incredible maturity for his age in keeping his feet on the ground with his arms up while defending the post, the freshman still has a ways to go. Johnson removed him late in the game for defensive purposes when it was apparent the Vikings needed to hit some outside shots or get quick buckets to close the deficit.
“We had some mismatches at the end where we got him out of there because they were spreading the floor,” Johnson said. “But the sky is the limit for him. He has been blessed with a big body and very good footwork and hands. Now it is all about us putting it all together.”