The Wolverine

January 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2020 BY JOHN BORTON T hey say everybody has a plan, until you get punched in the mouth. Colin Castleton has a plan, in spite of it. Michigan's sophomore center took a backhanded forearm to the chops in the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Hawkeyes big man Luke Garza wel- comed him to conference play with the unintended shot while the two were battling under the basket in U- M's 103-91 win. "I went back and watched the play," Castleton noted. "It kind of looked like it was unintentional. I wasn't sur- prised I didn't get a foul call." He did get two stitches, but didn't miss any action. Castleton was back on the court four days later at Illinois, which wasn't any surprise to senior point guard Zavier Simpson. "He's doing pretty good — a little lip bust," Simpson offered. "He's fine, though. He's tough. He's a soldier, so he's back in action." The senior played a role in that toughening up process. So has first- year Michigan head coach Juwan Howard. Castleton noted it's been a focus for him ever since he made the move from Father Lopez Catholic High in Daytona Beach, Fla. Not that the 6-11, 235-pounder was a pushover to begin with. The former Orlando Sentinel 7A Player of the Year averaged 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game as a senior, providing an intimidating presence in the paint. College basketball presents a differ- ent challenge, of course. College bas- ketball, Big Ten style, isn't any laugh- ing matter, even (or especially) when it has one in stitches. So Castleton entered Big Ten boot camp a year ago, urged on by Simp- son — the toughest of generals — and others, such as senior center Jon Teske and then-senior Charles Matthews. "With him being around the cam- pus, with Jon and myself, and him being groomed around Charles as well, I felt it helped out a lot," Simp- son said. "He's always been tough, but now he's just showing it a little more, which is good. I feel like we need that." SUDDEN CHANGE, SAME EMPHASIS Last spring's departure of former head coach John Beilein came as a shock to Castleton, like it did everyone else on the roster. Castleton took it in stride, though, like he had so many other adjustments in his first year as a Wolverine. He spent much of that season mim- icking players from other teams. A solid scout squad member, he might be Michigan State's 6-8 forward Xavier Tillman one week, Purdue's hulking 7-3 center Matt Haarms the next. Castleton did appear in 19 games as a U-M freshman, averaging 1.1 points and 1.1 rebounds a game. Mostly, though, he provided practice looks. "Last year was a big year for me," he said. "Freshman year, not playing a lot, being on scout team and every day having to play every rep, having to be other teams' players. Whether it's a shooter or a bruiser — a big man down low — it's battling guys in prac- tice every day. "There were some parts during the year where I got really down, really low. A lot of freshmen come in dealing with that, knowing they're not going to be playing 25-plus minutes a game. "We all preach that basketball is an 80-percent mental thing. If you don't have the mental part instilled in you, it can go really bad." Soon enough, he dealt with the news that he'd be trying to impress a brand- new coach and earn time all over again. Castleton insists he seized upon the change to move himself forward. He learned plenty from Beilein, whom Castleton described as a "good guy." Still, the rising sophomore didn't cringe over what soon presented itself. "Once Coach Howard got hired, it was bouncing back, resetting, realiz- ing I had another opportunity, another window for success," Castleton said. "You take that and run with it." He did and sounds amazed with the results. Howard won over many players with his love for Michigan, his heartfelt passion for basketball at his alma mater and his ability to connect with 18- to 21-year-olds. Castleton goes well beyond the gen- erally accepted company line in de- scribing the new boss. "We all love him as a coach, as a per- son," Castleton said. "He has all the attributes as a coach that you want. There's nothing more out of a coach that you want than what Coach How- ard gives us. "Every day, we cherish how good of a head coach we have. We love him, and we try to listen to everything he says. Going forward, we're super ex- cited and glad that we have Coach Howard as our coach, but we also re- spect Coach Beilein as well." One way Howard commanded im- mediate respect involved jumping into practice drills with the big men. A veteran of 19 NBA seasons, Howard stands only a half-dozen years from competing at basketball's highest level. His self-insertion into the drills still turned some heads, among Castleton, Teske, redshirt junior forward Austin Davis and junior forward Jaron Faulds. "We were just looking at each other like, we've never seen this before," Castleton said. "We were shocked. Is he going to guard us, bang with us? He grabbed the pad and said, 'Let's go! Let's get it!' We started doing different moves, and he's down there banging with us, fouling us and sweating. "At the end, he was like, 'Man, I've got to get in shape! You guys are beat- ing me up!' "There were four of us, going ev- ery rep, and he's in there every time, guarding us. It was pretty funny." Funny, because of Howard's self- deprecating humor, but instructive on many levels as well. Castleton finds himself an extremely willing student of this hands-on teacher. "Every drill, he's in there," Castleton said. "If he sees something he doesn't like, a mistake, he doesn't even look at it like something negative. When he's helping somebody, it's always a posi- Tough Enough Colin Castleton Steels Himself For Battles To Come During Michigan's 8-3 start, Castleton aver- aged 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9.5 min- utes per game. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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