Assistant's arrival gives Illini an edge

Assistant's arrival gives Illini an edge

DELAND, Fla. — Colin Castleton will make an official visit to Illinois the first weekend of September.

It's not a coincidence the Illini were first on his list of five eventual visits.

Not some scheduling quirk where the Class of 2018 prospect had the weekend open and so did Illinois.

Castleton scheduled the Illini first for a reason. It's the same reason the 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward out of Deland, Fla., believes Illinois started pursuing him in the first place.

"If I didn't know (Illinois assistant Orlando Antigua) they wouldn't have found out about me," Castleton said. "None of the kids on my teams were being recruited by them. It was a really big thing for me to visit Illinois with my first visit because of Coach Antigua."

Castleton's first scholarship offer came from Antigua in July 2016 when he was the head coach at South Florida. Antigua brought that connection with him when he joined Brad Underwood's staff at Illinois, and the Illini offered Castleton in May after watching him play with Nike South Beach on the EYBL circuit during the April evaluation periods.

Castleton said Underwood's system would be a fit for his skill set, but Antigua's presence at Illinois looms large.

"Once Coach Underwood saw me play he said he fell in love with me and liked the way I played and Coach Antigua was right," Castleton said. "It makes a big difference when Coach Antigua has put a lot of big guys in the NBA. People say (John) Calipari was the one who did that, but the guy who worked them out was Coach Antigua. He was the big man coach. He knows all the things to get a player to the next level and develop them. That's a big thing for me. I want to be developed the right way so one day I can make it to the NBA."

Castleton averaged 5.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for Nike South Beach in April and May. He left the EYBL in July to play on the adidas circuit for Team Knight, where he played a more prominent role in the final evaluation periods and added more Power 5 offers from the likes of Florida State, Xavier and Purdue. Both opportunities allowed Castleton to test himself against some of the top players in the country.

"The EYBL is crazy. Every game you play, you're playing against a top 100 kid, if not top 50," Castleton said. "The main thing was the physical aspect of the EYBL. It's hard. There's a lot of big kids in the EYBL. It helped me out physical-wise. The competition was good. They're all right there neck and neck — adidas, Under Armour and EYBL."

Castleton will follow his Illinois visit with one at Xavier the next weekend. His final three visits are not scheduled yet, but he intends to take them at Florida, who has not yet offered, Florida State and Purdue. He also intends to make all of his official visits before deciding on a school.

"I want to see how these schools look when I get there," Castleton said. "I'm not going to commit after any of the visits. It's not going to happen. A lot of people are asking me, 'Are you going to commit when you get there?' I'm probably not going to do that. I want to go to the school, experience it, have a good time (and) get to know the coaches more.

"I've been telling everybody if I'm not committing before the season, it will have to be after because I'm going to be too busy with school work and the high school basketball season trying to develop my game instead of worrying about where I'm going."

Castleton has been a pivotal player at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Fla., the past two seasons. He averaged 15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game as a sophomore and followed that up averaging 23.3 points, 11 rebounds and 5.4 blocks last season as a junior. His focus for his final season is getting bigger and improving his motor.

"Everybody tells me I have a lot of skill, and I know I have a lot of skill," Castleton said. "I need to work on things that don't involve skill, like motor, running the floor (and) doing things I can control without the ball. I worked with my high school coach every day in June on ball handling, working on agility and being quicker against big guys. I always work on shooting no matter what. I'm trying to be a quick big in a sense — a stretch 4 who can blow by big guys and then post up a smaller guy in the post."