Last week, Caleb Swanigan made his debut in a Portland Trail Blazers uniform in Las Vegas, at the NBA-prospect dress rehearsal known as Summer League. He picked up where he left off at Purdue University by recording a double-double: 16 points and 10 rebounds. But the number that obsessed both sets of TV announcers—Blazers homers and ESPN crew alike—was 360, the pounds he weighed in middle school.

The 120-pound weight loss is bright frosting on a painful story: The 6-foot-9 Swanigan gorged on cookies and ice cream at age 13 because he didn't know where his next meal was coming from. ("It is a lot more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat unhealthy," he told ESPN in March.) He lived in at least five homeless shelters in Utah and Indiana with his family before a sports agent gave him a stable home and dietary rules.

Seven years later, Swanigan, 20, is an All-American, Portland's second pick in the NBA draft, and a surefire fan favorite—he fits the Jerome Kersey mold of beloved lunch-bucket Blazers who just seem to work a little harder on the court than anybody else. Maybe he'll also serve as a nightly reminder in a city whose homeless crisis can seem intractable and eternal: With a little help, the people living on the margins of our society are capable of big things.