Countdown to 2015–16: Kyle Castlin will be a pivotal piece in Columbia’s Ivy League title charge

Photo courtesy of Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin

He wasn’t expecting to play so quickly for Columbia last season, but when Alex Rosenberg went down with a foot fracture weeks before the opener, Kyle Castlin was called upon to contribute. He’d yet to play in a Division I basketball game.

Castlin, a 6–4 guard, ended up starting all 28 of Columbia’s games in 2014–15. His 10.3 points finished tops among Ivy League freshmen, and second on the team behind Maodo Lo. Castlin chipped in 4.5 rebounds, and shot 46% from the field, while hitting 24 threes at a 38% clip.

“Certain injuries (Grant Mullins, a 6–3 guard slated to be a starter alongside Rosenberg, also missed all of ‘14–15) resulted in more opportunities for me, but I wouldn’t say I was nervous or didn’t like it,” says Castlin. “I felt like I was prepared to play. I was confident that if I was given an opportunity, I could come in and contribute.”

Last December, Castlin was part of the cast that sent a serious scare into then-No. 1 ranked Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats had trailed for just 36 minutes through their first nine games, all wins — in that 10th game, against CU, it took them 26 minutes to take a lead.

That performance hinted at Columbia’s potential, even while dealing with all those injuries. Losing three of their next five, after Kentucky, hinted at the inconsistencies that resulted in their 13–15 final record. So, Castlin got back in the gym. “One thing this summer, was shooting,” says Castlin. “I came into college as a pretty good driver, but consistent shooting would set my game apart.”

Through film study, he’s looked for different ways he can score, while also improving his footwork and defense. He takes pieces from Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. How they mix it up on offense; alternating between driving and dismantling defenses with all kinds of different shots.

With all the talent on this season’s Columbia roster, he can also look at current teammates. “There’s so many players to look up to,” Castlin says, citing in particular Lo and Rosenberg. “I get better playing against great competition, and a guy like Alex knows so many little things about the game, like how to get his defender off balance and draw fouls.”

Last season’s CU senior class was a strong one, and they looked out for Castlin. Noah Springwater would stay after practice and play shooting games; Steve Frankoski was Castlin’s roommate on the road. He made sure Castlin ate right and got to bed early. “And Maodo — I used to do drills and work out with him,” says Castlin. “He’s such a great player.”

Even Rosenberg, who withdrew from Columbia’s ‘14–15 academic year in order to preserve his final season of eligibility, came to all of Columbia’s games. He’d talk to Castlin and provide ideas on ways he thought he could improve.

Castlin rarely has time on his hands, what with the rigors of juggling high-major DI basketball with an Ivy League education, but like Lo, Castlin enjoys walking around New York City, something new always seeming to unfold around him. “Where I’m from (Marietta, Ga.), you’ve gotta drive to get to different places,” Castlin says. “I like the energy here. We’re always on the go, so it’s fun to just check out the city and chill.”

This season, with Rosenberg and Mullins both back, Columbia will mount a charge toward an Ivy League title. That’s the goal, says Castlin, but head coach Kyle Smith has made sure the team’s focus is razor-sharp. The mantra: one game at a time.

Smart thinking: big things have small beginnings.

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops