Colin Castleton's healthy return will make coach Todd Golden's job easier | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

A new era began this week for Florida basketball. How it initially goes will largely depend on an old, familiar face.

It’s the long, lean one belonging to Colin Castleton. As Gainesville braced for the big storm Tuesday, he and his teammates had the first official practice under Todd Golden.

It was literally the beginning of the Golden Era, though anointing it that seems premature and a little cheesy. All we know for now is you need a program to identify many of the main participants.

I’d give you the early scouting report on guys like Will Richard and Denzel Aberdeen. But I’m still trying to figure out who's Will Richard and who's Denzel Aberdeen.

Before the season:UF basketball coach Todd Golden on roster, recovery for Colin Castleton and Jason Jitoboh

More David Whitley:Florida basketball had no choice when it came to Keyontae Johnson

Gene Frenette:How Gators coach Todd Golden sold Colin Castleton on UF return

Colin Castleton is back and feels 'better than I ever have'

Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) gets pumped up against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at Amalie Arena in the SEC Tournament March 10, 2022.

Looming over everyone was the 6-11 Castleton. He’s the lone returning starter, and he did have a message for fans who last saw him at the O’Connell Center.

“I feel better than I ever have,” he said. “Just mentally, I’m in a good spot.”

That was hard to find in the 2021-22 season. There was the perpetual angst over the state of Mike White’s program. But more than anything, there was the stabbing pain in Castleton’s left shoulder.

A torn labrum essentially turned him into a one-armed man. Castleton had flirted with turning pro after his junior season, but decided he’d be better off honing his game for one more college season.

He was second-team All-SEC for the second straight season, but it was hardly a satisfying year. Castleton lifted his framed jersey during Senior Day festivities in March and figured his days in Gainesville were over.

Then White resigned to start anew at Georgia. Golden swooped in from San Francisco. One of the first things on his to-do list was meet with Castleton. What was in the sales pitch?

“Just what he saw last year,” Castleton said, “and what he can bring to the table for me and the team.”

What he saw last year was at times painful to watch, simply because Castleton was in such obvious pain. He could play with a torn labrum, but it felt as if he was being stabbed with a hot poker when he raised his left arm.

You raise your arms a lot when you play basketball.

“It’s a mental thing,” Castleton said. “You’re able to play on it. It might not be the smartest (move), but I love playing basketball.”

He initially missed six games and aggravated the injury when he returned. He couldn’t swat away the usual shots or snag as many rebounds. But a one-armed Castleton was still the best player Florida had on many nights.

Looking forward to the season and the future

He had surgery after the season, leading to the longest basketball hiatus of his life. While all the new guys and returning players scrimmaged through summer workouts, Castleton rehabbed and watched.

“He doesn’t have much to prove,” Golden said.

Not when it comes to being a force in college. But 6-11 players no longer make an NBA living if they can’t run the floor and shoot.

That’s where Golden’s sales pitch kicks in. He prefers a fast tempo and a lot of shots.

That should not only please the fans who stifled yawns watching White’s teams, but also the approach should help Castleton with NBA scouts.

“I can showcase everything in my game,” he said.

That includes 3-point marksmanship. Considering he’s 0-for-17 in his college career, you wouldn’t know that was part of Castleton’s game.

But he’s always had a smooth stroke. During 3-point drills Tuesday, he hit seven in a row.

He swished another during the scrimmage. What Castleton didn’t do was grimace in pain when he tried to block a shot or grab a rebound.

“He came back here to win and be successful,” Golden said. “He’s not going to leave anything to chance that way.”

It’s way too early to tell how much success that will lead to in Year 1 of the new era. But it’s always easier to win when your best player is finally in a good spot.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.