Castleton challenging Payne for UF starting center role
The Florida men’s basketball team may possess an attribute that’s been missing for much of coach Mike White’s time at the helm: frontcourt depth.
Anthony Duruji is eligible to play this season after sitting out per NCAA transfer rules, and the Gators added junior forward Osayi Osifo as part of the 2020 class to go along with returning big men Omar Payne and Jason Jitoboh.
Rounding out the group of new presences in the post is Colin Castleton, the 6-foot-11 junior and native of Daytona Beach who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA after transferring to the program from Michigan in April, and early returns suggest he will play a far larger role than he did up in Ann Arbor.
For someone like Castleton, who showed touch offensively when given the chance yet averaged just 3.4 points per game off the bench for the Wolverines as a sophomore, the opportunity for more playing time was appealing, albeit unguaranteed when it came time to make a decision on his future.
“Coach White didn’t promise anything to me in the recruiting process, but we just had a lot of thorough talks,” Castleton said. “We talked about an opportunity to play right away (with a waiver) and be able to help this team go far, and just help the team with whatever they need in the frontcourt, bring the extra leadership that he’s been wanting and also help what they lost with Kerry (Blackshear).”
While opinions seem to vary as to whether Blackshear, last season’s SEC preseason Player of the Year, lived up to the hype, there’s little doubt internally regarding the veteran leadership, poise and work ethic the former Virginia Tech transfer brought to Gainesville.
Castleton cited White’s success with transfers as part of the reason he ultimately felt confident making the move to Florida.
“I definitely saw his track record with transfers and how they’ve excelled here,” Castleton said. “Most of the guys he’s brought in have helped the team, and I think that will be something that can help me, and I thought about that when I decided to come here as well. It definitely played a part in me coming here.”
And Castleton appreciated the approach and transparency of UF’s coaching staff throughout the transfer process, saying a chance to earn his way onto the court appealed to someone with his work ethic.
“I think my mom really instilled that in me since I was a young kid. No matter what is going wrong in your life right now, I’m blessed to be on a scholarship at the University of Florida, so why take that for granted?,” Castleton said. “Why sit around and not do anything? I think working hard is something that I’m built off of, and I don’t think you can get better without working hard. You either get better everyday, or you get worse. There’s no in-between. So if you put that work in, at the end of the day you’ll be blessed with certain opportunities. I definitely believe that in myself.”
Indications are it’s paying off already for Castleton.
According to his new teammates in Gainesville, Castleton continues to battle with Payne for minutes at center with Florida’s season-opener Nov. 25 against UMass Lowell swiftly approaching.
“Those guys (Omar and Colin), it’s day and night with those guys. They’re fighting and kicking each other’s asses all the time in practice,” UF sophomore Scottie Lewis said. “Colin’s great with his back to the basket, being able to get buckets for us and make great plays. He’s a good reader, a good passer. They both bring something different to our team, and their games complement each other well. But it’s a battle, they go at it. Like, they really go at it.”
Castleton confirmed as much, although he made sure to note the fierce competition is for the betterment of each other; with Jitoboh still recovering from a foot injury, Castleton has become the guy pushing Payne’s improvement in practice, and vice versa.
“With Jason being banged up, it’s just me and Omar, you know. We’ve been going at it every day. We’re just battling, clashing, just going at it with each other” Castleton said, adding he agrees with Lewis that their respective skill sets work in harmony. “We both complement each other’s games. We’re definitely similar play styles, but I think both of us have unique skill sets, and we both will bring a lot to this team, together.”
Regardless of whether Castleton is the starting center or not this season, it sounds as if it won’t affect his approach — with a mindset like that, in an unprecedented era like this, he feels it can only lead to a positive result.
“I think Colin is an underrated guy. I think he didn’t get a ton of opportunity playing behind some really talented guys in a high level program at Michigan that had a lot of success, of course. He’s a guy that I feel like has done a good job working and developing this fall. He’s been very competitive, very receptive to coaching, he’s shown some toughness, some skill level,” White said. “He is a little bit different than some of the guys we’ve had. He’s got some Jason Jitoboh in him but he’s got some Omar Payne length. Colin is certainly capable if he keeps working at contributing a lot at the five. I’m excited about coaching him.”