Thanks to 20 pounds of added muscle, a green light and positional versatility, Colin Castleton feels ready to take a leap forward.
Like the rest of the Michigan basketball program, things changed drastically for the sophomore forward this offseason. He showed promise as a shot-blocker in limited playing time during his freshman season, but a frail physical frame ultimately limited his impact.
That’s no longer the case.
Castleton remained in Ann Arbor over the summer, where he worked with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson to gain much-needed muscle. With first-year coach Juwan Howard’s positionless basketball philosophy, his added speed, strength and ability to guard multiple positions bodes well for his anticipated spike in playing time.
The additional muscle helps, but it boils down to what Castleton can show in practice. So far this fall, it’s making an impact.
“It’s been so different, especially since his freshman year,” said senior center Jon Teske. “Coming in last year it was so easy to move him around. Now this year, I’m having a little bit more difficulty. He’s put in so much time and effort and he has a great work ethic.”
Added junior forward Isaiah Livers: “He’s definitely rolling to the basket and banging with big (redshirt junior center) Austin Davis and Jon Teske. Those are some shot blockers and rim protectors in there, and he’s rolling into them, their bodies and putting that 20 pounds extra on them.”
In that regard, Howard’s hiring is a plus. Castleton cited his new coach’s emphasis on using his base to score on bigger defenders, adding that Howard uses a football pad to bump the Wolverines’ big men around the rim in practice.
“Everyday, (Howard) is working us out one-on-one, all the big guys, and he’s the coach that’s getting down and dirty with us,” Castleton said. “… I don’t think it’s (something) any other coach can do because he’s that position player. He’s done it for so long, played at every level, so it’s great personally for me.”
Still just 46 years old and six years removed from winning an NBA title with the Miami Heat, Howard’s experience brings a special element to his big men in practice. In five seasons as an assistant coach on Miami’s staff, his coaching keyed the breakouts of Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. And to Howard, there isn’t much difference between coaching big men at the NBA and college levels.
“When it comes to the bigs, I’m hands-on,” Howard said. “I’m there working them out, I grab the pad or I play defense on them. I love teaching, so I’m big on player development hands-on.”
The scrimmages aren’t any easier than the physical drills for Castleton, who deals with a 30-pound weight disadvantage when guarding Teske. But like Teske last season, Castleton is looking to add a long-range shot to his arsenal. He didn’t attempt many threes last year despite shooting well from distance in high school, but Castleton’s teammates claim his stroke has looked good in practice so far.
“Last year, he didn’t have that green light Teske had, but he’s definitely going to get that green light to be shooting the ball because Colin’s a very, very talented big man,” Livers said. “… (His shot) looks like it has last year, he just never really got the chance to do it. It never really caught on to the philosophy last year and that kind of made him struggle.”
For a team that lost over half of last year’s scoring to the NBA Draft, Castleton’s added muscle and green light from behind the arc could be crucial early in the season. With Livers and freshman forward Franz Wagner expected to shoulder much of the load from the wing, Castleton will produce immediately if he proves capable of scoring both inside and out.
In nine minutes of action against Nebraska last February, Castleton posted 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, three rebounds and a block. Regular performances like that on a greater scale can stretch the floor, open opportunities for others and, most importantly, ease the transition between coaching eras.
For Castleton, that’ll define whether or not he makes the leap his teammates expect.