LAS VEGAS - Prior to his pro debut with the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday in the NBA Summer League, Caleb Swanigan was trying to get his mind right in a very tight-fitting northeast corner of UNLV's Cox Pavilion.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards were playing at the time, while random people were approaching the 26th overall pick from last month's NBA Draft with the obligatory pre-game tap, all wishing him luck before taking the court against the Utah Jazz. The greetings were brief, as Swanigan was trying to stay focused while mentally preparing for his big moment.
Suddenly, he was approached by an older woman, a Trail Blazers fan, who told him how inspired she was by his now well-documented life story, and that she had been anticipating this day for weeks.
This greeting lasted longer than the others. And it was, well, nice.
Other than the fact she suggested he change his nickname from "Biggie" to something that might be more apropos these days, it was another moment Swanigan could appreciate the impact his long journey has had.
In 28 minutes, Swanigan looked every bit like a vocal leader on the court and a pertinent piece in the paint, as he led Portland with 16 points and 13 rebounds in a 72-63 win.
To him, it was "only" a Summer League game, but the fact is, Swanigan arrived with his first of many double-doubles to come.
"It was just another basketball game to me, I feel like it will be more surreal when it becomes the real games and the real-time thing," said the Homestead High School-product. "This just feels like Summer League. You know, AAU you play all your life, so (this) didn't have that surreal moment to it. It was more about just getting the win for the team right now."
However he looked at it, Portland fans - including the lady who suggested a nickname change - should have been pleased by the competitive fire he brought.
The 6-foot-9 power forward had no problem getting physical in the frontcourt and assuming the center role while fellow-rookie Zach Collins struggled, directing traffic throughout the game, or wrestling with Utah's Joel Bolomboy on the floor for a loose ball at one point.
"I thought Caleb played pretty well," Collins said. "He's a big, strong dude. He's a locomotive when it comes to offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding."
While both Swanigan and Collins are expected to add depth to Portland's paint presence, backing center Jusuf Nurkic, there has been speculation that by improving his athleticism, Collins is the one who could join Nurkic on the court at power forward. But with how comfortable Swanigan looked on Saturday, and assumedly how much he'll improve by the time preseason camp opens in September, it would come as no surprise if Biggie nabs the four-spot.
"I'm real confident in my game, it's just more or less playing hard," Swanigan said. "You have to remember you're playing with 14 new teammates I've never played with before, so a lot of us were thrown into it for the Summer League. As long as we get more chemistry this weekend, we're going to get better. I'm confident I can play hard every night and I know that's what they want me to do."
At his introductory press conference, the former Purdue standout said the offensive end of court was irrelevant, as "it matters who you can guard. So, whoever they feel like I can guard best is where I'll play."
Swanigan looked good against Bolomboy, who had just six points and shot a paltry 1 of 6 from the floor. Swanigan also had one steal and one block, while nine of his rebounds were on the defensive end.
And at one point, for what it's worth, he even stepped back to drain a 3-pointer with a minute left in the first half, prompting one of his teammates from the bench to yell: "Good shot Biggie!"
Sorry lady, it appears Biggie is coming to Portland.
Willie Ramirez is a freelance journalist from Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press and USA Today High School Sports. He can be followed on Twitter at WillieGRamirez.