Against Minnesota, Castleton shows he belongs
MINNEAPOLIS — Jordan Poole didn’t want to talk to the media.
Here was the sophomore guard, after having scored a game-high 22 points and five 3-pointers, refusing the honor usually reserved for a performance of that caliber. There was someone who he felt deserved it more.
“All y’all gotta ask him a question,” Poole said, gesturing at Colin Castleton. “I’m not answering nobody's questions ‘til you ask him.”
Castleton isn’t Ignas Brazdeikis, a contender for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He isn’t Brandon Johns or David DeJulius, both of whom have shown the physicality to hold their own at this level. The forward from Daytona Beach, Fla. is a string bean-like 6-foot-11 and 210 pounds, a frame that has chained him to the scout team all season. He won’t turn 19 until May.
Feb. 1 at Iowa was Castleton’s first meaningful appearance of the season. He got in for three minutes at the end of the first half, an appearance precipitated by extreme foul trouble. It was Michigan coach John Beilein breaking the glass in case of an emergency.
Castleton’s first action since then, which came seven minutes into the Wolverines’ 69-60 win over Minnesota, was still prompted by extenuating circimstances. Johns, who has gotten spot duty backing up junior Jon Teske at center, caught the flu earlier this week and was unable to practice at all, per Beilein. Castleton “auditioned” for Johns’ vacated minutes with redshirt sophomore Austin Davis. He won.
“I’ve been ready all year,” Castleton said. “I just work hard every day in practice because you never know when your opportunity will come.”
This opportunity wasn’t a beyond-any-doubt statement that Castleton is ready for the big time. In his four minutes, he missed his lone shot, grabbed one rebound and committed a personal foul. But for a freshman trying to make his way in college basketball, events such as that are imbued with importance, magnified in their memorability.
“Just, it’s go time, basically,” Castleton said. “Give the effort and get ready to play. That’s really it. Just do everything I got taught to do.”
Castleton’s length and wingspan had a tangible effect on the Golden Gophers’ muscular inside attack. With 4:16 left in the first half, he moved his feet and stayed vertical while guarding Eric Curry, who holds a two-year and 30-pound advantage on him. With nowhere to go, Curry shuffled his feet, and the referee blew his whistle.
There’s nothing sexy about a travel. Most of the time, the defender doesn’t even get credit for it. But this was different.
This wasn’t playing on the scout team in an empty gym — this was a forced turnover on the road in the Big Ten. The enthusiastic reaction Castleton received from his teammates was as much a recognition of the moment’s significance as the play’s actual impact.
“It gives you confidence when teammates give me high fives and stuff,” Castleton said. “It’s a little play, but in my eyes it’s a really big play because I barely get minutes. So when it happens, it gives me confidence and shows that they care.”
As Castleton spoke to reporters, moments after Beilein said that he “won’t hesitate” to put him in similar situations in the future, assistant coach Saddi Washington snuck behind him and jovially grabbed his shoulders. Teske then walked past and delivered a congratulatory slap to Castleton’s back. Poole stood feet away with his phone in his hands, grinning as he recorded the scene.
Four scoreless minutes couldn’t quite tell what four minutes in the bowels of Williams Arena could.
Colin Castleton still has a long way to go, but on Thursday night, he was hardly out of place.