Sultan of Swat: Florida basketball's Colin Castleton among elite shot blockers in the nation

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) attempts to block the shot from Connecticut Huskies guard Andre Jackson Jr. (44) during the second half at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, December 7, 2022. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

At the rim, where games are often won or lost, Florida senior center Colin Castleton impacts the game with his defensive prowess.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Castleton enters this week as the SEC’s leading shot-blocker and third-best shot-blocker in Division 1 at 3.1 per game. A third-year transfer from Michigan, Castleton also is climbing up the record books as one of the elite rim protectors in Gator basketball history.

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 Castleton needs two blocks to pass Andrew DeClercq (176) for fifth on UF’s all-time blocks list. Within striking distance after that is Joakim Noah, fourth all-time in blocks with 186, and Al Horford, third with 189.

Castleton’s career blocks per game average (2.48), currently stands a shade ahead of Florida’s all-time leading blocker, the late Dwayne Schintzius (2.47).

“Schintzius was bigger by far, much bigger at 7-foot-2,” said former Florida forward and Gator basketball historian Bill Koss. “Had really good dexterity for a guy his size. But Castleton has all of that. Castleton has really good timing, he really affects the ball and I think it’s become a really big advantage for Florida to have him inside. Other teams are hesitant to put it up.”

Dedication to defense

With an 86-inch wingspan, Castleton possesses physical gifts that make life difficult for those who try to challenge him going to the basket. But the blocked shots haven’t come without other intangibles such as film study and mindset.

“Just being aggressive, knowing when to time it up,” Castleton said. “If I’m going after a guard or have a big on me, he’s going to try to block me as a big, just lock up, using my length because I have long arms.”

Castleton has stepped up his shot blocking of late, averaging 4.2 blocks during a stretch in which Florida has won four of its last five games.

“We scout a lot of players, so I watch their tendencies and see how they try to score over guys,” Castleton said. “But that’s something I have a knack for, and I really love defense, so I take pride in it.”

That mindset trickles down to practice, where according to teammates, Castleton expends consistent energy on defense.

“Luckily, I’m usually on his team in practice, so I don’t have to try and score against him,” guard Will Richard said. “For the other team, it's definitely hard. Every shot you try to put up close to the basket, he’s pretty much blocking it.”

Castleton’s defensive presence at the rim is a big reason why the Gators (11-8, 4-3 SEC) enter the week ranked 13th in the country by KenPom in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Florida’s two-point field goal percentage defense ranks 15th in the country (43.9 percent) in part because of Castleton’s ability to block and alter shots at the rim.

“It’s kind of like controlling the line of scrimmage in football,” Florida coach Todd Golden said.

Overcoming shoulder injury

It’s been a long road back for Castleton, who underwent offseason surgery and rehabilitation to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

“I'm playing probably the most minutes I've played my whole career,” Castleton said. “So, that's something that I've been able to build up throughout the offseason, like when I had my shoulder injury, just focusing on getting my body right and getting that weight up.”

The rehabilitation included plank drills, one-armed push-ups and band resistance training. All of it has resulted in Castleton being physically stronger and able to hold his ground in the paint against bruising SEC power forward and centers.

“At the beginning, I couldn’t do a push-up,” Castleton said. “I couldn’t do a pull-up the whole rehab. I never did a pull up. Nothing pulling, it was all pushing.

“So, I was able to start doing some military press towards the end. That was the biggest jump, being able to go from actually having the shoulder like skinny, no muscle and barely doing any band work (to) towards the end of my rehab being able to do push-ups, you know, pressing with dumbbells.”

For the third-straight season, Castleton is playing at an All-SEC level, leading the Gators in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. His ability to protect the rim and stay out of foul trouble will be critical moving forward.

After Florida’s home game Wednesday against South Carolina, the Gators will play three of their next four against ranked teams, at No. 5 Kansas State (Jan. 28), vs. No. 4 Tennessee (Feb. 1) and at No. 2 Alabama (Feb. 8).

“That's the biggest goal for me, (I) just want to keep winning games,” Castleton said. “So, as long as I keep doing what I'm doing and making sure I make the right play every time, that's all I care about, winning.”