Last Thursday in Minneapolis, freshman forward Colin Castleton stood in a cramped hallway outside the visiting locker room as reporters attempted to swarm Jordan Poole. Only Poole wouldn’t let them, forcing each reporter to ask Castleton a question before they could talk to him.
A week later, Castleton entered the Crisler Center media room after Michigan’s 82-53 win over Nebraska and no such coercing was necessary. Before he could even make his way to the back wall for his interview, a steady stream of reporters had migrated from junior center Jon Teske and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers to the spot where Castleton would stand, positioning themselves at the front of the mass of media that would soon surround him.
The scene would have seemed absurd to most just two hours earlier. Those within the team knew this week was different from the start.
“You guys are gonna see a lot more of ‘Swaggy C,’ as we call him,” Livers said. “That’s the future. I’m trying to tell you guys, he’s next.”
After getting some game time against Minnesota, Castleton began feeling more confident and ready than he had all season. Then, Sunday afternoon against Michigan State, redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews went down with an ankle injury, thrusting a starting lineup that had remained constant for 28 games into flux.
“(The coaches) didn’t really tell me anything straightforward,” Castleton said. “But they just told me, if you’re ready, keep staying ready and keep learning everything and soak everything in cause we had to go over the plays and going from scout team to the blue team (in practice), it’s a really big transition.”
Castleton’s primary role comes as a ‘5,’ while Matthews starts at the ‘3.’ But with Livers — Michigan’s primary backup at the ‘3’ through ‘5’ — slotting into the starting lineup, coach John Beilein found himself in desperate need of frontcourt depth. And with redshirt sophomore Austin Davis and freshman Brandon Johns both having struggled in recent auditions, Castleton, who has spent most of the season with the scout team, suddenly found himself practicing with the regular rotation.
The day before the game, with Matthews looking unlikely to play, Beilein told Teske that his role in practice would be limited in order to help work Castleton and Johns into the rotation.
“I don’t want you in on offense or on defense except one out of every three plays,” Beilein told him. “Teach Colin, teach Brandon what to do.”
When Matthews was officially ruled out, Beilein met with his staff to hold a vote on who Livers’ minutes would go to. Despite not seeing as much out of Castleton as they had wanted, the staff went with him. So, when Teske picked up his first foul barely five minutes into Thursday’s game, Beilein turned to his bench and called for Castleton.
Safe to say, it paid off.
Less than 30 seconds after coming in, Castleton received a pass in the short corner, spun past his defender and laid it in off the glass for his first points in two months. By the time he exited for the last time, he had nine more, to go with three rebounds and a block.
“It was very big,” Teske said Thursday. “Coach Beilein always talks about being an outlier and Colin was that tonight.”
And with Matthews injured, postseason play looming and an added need for depth coming along with it, Castleton’s performance couldn’t have come at a better time.
So as he walked off the court with just over a minute to play and the Wolverines’ win secured, the Crisler Center crowd arose to applaud him — likely the first time that honor has been bestowed upon a backup forward all season. Moments later, the Maize Rage followed suit with chants of “Castle-ton.”
The Michigan bench may not have broken into chants, but as it met Castleton with whoops and hollers, it too knew the importance of his performance.
“We need those guys, trust me,” Livers said, “to get where we want to get where we want to get.”