PISCATAWAY — For Colin Castleton, Wednesday’s success began 72 hours before the Michigan men’s basketball team tipped off against Rutgers.
During the Wolverines’ 24-point win over Indiana on Sunday, the sophomore forward played just two minutes, a brief stint when the game was already well out of reach. As some of his teammates hit the showers and made their way back to university dorms after the game, Castleton remained on the Crisler Center hardwood — basketball in hand — putting up extra shots.
No student managers, no rebounding machine. Just Castleton, the rim and the ball.
Leading up to Wednesday, Castleton had played just five minutes over the Wolverines’ last three games. But when Michigan needed a second-half spark against Rutgers, coach Juwan Howard called his number. Castleton delivered a timely and-one layup and a much-needed defensive presence, propelling the Wolverines to a 60-52 victory.
“It’s a big thing in basketball. People hold their head down if they’re not playing,” Castleton said. “But I just get told every day, and coach Juwan preaches to me every day, ‘Just stay ready.’
“His big key word is just being positive. You never know when your name is going to get called. So when your name does get called, you’ve got to be ready.”
In Castleton’s case, there were reasons why he could’ve lost sight of that mindset. After showing promise as a backup center in November at the Battle 4 Atlantis, he was ultimately surpassed by senior center Austin Davis in Howard’s rotation.
Minutes became hard to come by as he fell in the pecking order, and he struggled to capitalize on limited opportunities. From Dec. 11 to Jan. 25, Caslteton shot a dismal 20 percent from the field.
But through it all, one thing never wavered.
“You never know when your name’s going to be called on,” Howard said. “But when you have that positive mindset and you’re staying ready, staying locked in, feeding energy and cheering for your teammates, knowing what’s happening on the floor, buying into film, coming in on off-days, getting shots up for yourself, I feel comfortable with going with (Caslteton).”
On Wednesday, the odds were stacked against Castleton. Lack of recent playing time took him out of a rhythm he couldn’t seize in November. He was forced to deal with the raucous crowd that had propelled Rutgers to a 17-0 home record. He was cold after spending the entire first half on the bench. He was forced to play the ‘4’ due to junior forward Isaiah Livers’ absence, even though it’s not his natural position.
Still, he made an immediate impact when Howard looked his way. His driving and-one layup gave Michigan its first points of the second half, halting the Scarlet Knights’ six-point run before they could pull away.
Castleton celebrated by marching over to the Wolverines’ bench, where he promptly went down the line to claim a high-five from every teammate.
“Colin’s a guy that everyone likes,” senior point guard Zavier Simpson said. “When he comes in the game, it shows his emotion, shows the winning positive spirit when he gets the and-one by just dapping the bench up. Being encouraging, being energizing, that means a lot.
“Because some guys get in the game, get an and-one, haven’t played the whole first half, they just think, ‘Ah, it’s alright.’ … When we see someone on the court being so energized and energetic coming in, just giving us that boost that we need.”
The and-one marked the beginning of a 10-minute stretch in which Castleton changed the game’s landscape. He scored five points without missing a field goal, but his biggest impact was felt on the other end of the floor. He grabbed four rebounds when his teammates were struggling to keep the Scarlet Knights off the offensive glass and used his length to alter shots in zone defense.
In Piscataway, Castleton reaped the benefits of season-long perseverance — the same characteristic that fueled his postgame solo shootaround just three days prior.