We're back with the second in our series of preseason basketball Q&As. Today's subject is Washington State center DeAngelo Casto, one of the leaders of a team that has no seniors. Read on.
As always, some quick background. Casto was born in St. Louis, Mo., but came to live in the Spokane area as an 8-year-old after living in poverty in crime-riddled East St. Louis, Ill. After attending Freeman High, he transferred to Spokane's Ferris High, where he teamed with WSU football player Jared Karstetter, Montana guard Shawn Stockton and others to lead the Saxons to back-to-back State 4A titles and two undefeated seasons. As a freshman in Tony Bennett's final season, Casto showed his ability to defend anyone from a shooting guard (James Harden in a memorable upset in Tempe) to a center. His offensive game was a work in progress, though, as he averaged 4.4 points while playing 16 minutes a game. Last season, stepping into the starting lineup in the middle despite being undersized at 6-foot-8, he averaged seven rebounds and 10.7 points while blocking 67 shots, fourth best in school history. He's added muscle to his frame in the offseason and will begin his junior year at 255 pounds, which is 26 pounds more than his freshman year.
Question: It's kind of hard for me to believe and I was wondering how you feel about it. This is your third year here. Shocking to believe you are an upperclassmen?
Answer: It is kind of weird. It's one of those things that, if you look back, at that time in high school and stuff, I would never have said, "I'm going to be a junior in college," you know what I mean? I've surprised myself even. I'm just happy I can say I'm an upperclassman. It was weird coming into this year familiar with everything. People expect things of you know instead of teaching you. That part is actually fun, where you have more responsibilities and given more things to do as an adult.
Q: When you say surprised, do you mean you thought college was going to be hard, not just basketball but the academics as well?
A: Ya, I thought it was going to be impossible. High school was hard enough. I hate school. School is great and is avenue you need to follow, it's important later on in life, but as a young adult, a young kid, I hate school. It's hard to get up and go. Plus the work is harder than high school. I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it, if I was going to be motivated enough to even get things done or if I was going to be able to even pass a test. (But) I've gotten A's and B's on tests. I've actually excelled pretty well. I don't know. It might just be the atmosphere here. And I do have a lot of help with tutors and stuff.
Q: You live alone now?
A: I live far away, off campus, no one is bothering me. When I want to see people, I'll be up here to see people or at someone's house. But when I go home I want to be able to relax and kick the shoes off. If I want to sing, I can sing at the top of my lungs. That's just the type of person I am. I hate being alone, but when I do get alone, that's all I want, to be alone.
Q: Your life story has been pretty well known, but how did that early life, the life you led before coming to WSU, how did that shape you?
A: When you really think about it, the story that I've lived is more of the underdog mentality. I think WSU, at the end of the day, that's what was the real deciding factor. The underdog feeling, we're a family united in our own little town, we do what we do. And I fed off that. Obviously Tony had a lot to do with it and, even with (coach) Ken (Bone) coming in, he still cares that we're a family. As far as my life has gone, that's how I wanted it, a good core while I try to become a man. There are things I've learned along the way I never would have learned somewhere else. I thank God every day. I know he's put me in a very good spot. It's not the most well known, it's not the biggest city, it's not in the SEC or anything like that, but, especially this year, we're at the point where we can compete but I'm also in a good spot for my life, to keep growing.
Q: Let's turn back to basketball. When you got here, you were a talented defensive player but your other skills needed developing. How much do you think you've developed offensively?
A: It's going to be a huge year for you people to see that. Every year, almost every practice even, my offensive ability has gotten better and better and better. So this year – I was talking to Klay (Thompson) the other day, he's more comfortable this year because he knows I'm an offensive threat, he knows Reggie Moore is an offensive threat, he's obviously an offensive threat, and so the game will be more fun to play, less stressful, coach will love it. I just think this year is going to be one of those years. We've done a lot of things to get to this point. We've struggled, we've had our ups and downs, we've had our change of coach, but I think our hard work has paid off. That's good to see. It's been explained to me, all the little things will eventually pay off. School will eventually pay off, all the hard work we've put in, even over the summer, the lifting, will pay off. Being up at 5 in the morning – honestly, you don't need to be up at 5 in the morning on your summer break, who's doing that?
Q: You were around Spokan the year the Cougars broke through, when Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill made the NCAA tournament. It was all those guys' junior year. Are you thinking this is the same type of breakthrough year for this team?
A: Ya. It's so much different, I even feel different. Seriously, when you step on the court as a junior versus stepping on the court as a freshman or a sophomore, it's just different. My experience in the game, I've gotten a lot more knowledgeable about basketball. I had a meeting with coach and we were just sitting down, we were talking game plan. Freshman year I wouldn't have sat down and talked game planning. He values my opinion. We see things and Reggie sees things and Klay sees things, so we're older, more mature, our bodies are, they're not little freshman bodies. It's like my junior and senior year in high school. Coach (Don Van Lierop), it was more of a monitoring, because we knew what he expected, what he needed and wanted. That's where we're at now. We know what coach (Bone) needs and expects. And we're capable of doing that.
Q: You've put on some weight and gotten a little stronger. Is that been a goal of yours?
A: Definitely been a goal. Especially with as much banging as I do. Also, my body just took on, got bigger naturally. I've always had broad shoulders, so my body, it's just gone through that transition of becoming a man. That's why (veteran) teams are good. You can't be good with all underclassmen. You've got to have leadership, strength, all those little things your body can develop over time. There are guys like LeBron (James) that are just freaks, but there are more guys like me that have to grow up.
Q: You have a core of new guys coming in. You've had a chance to see them play a little bit, what do they bring?
A: I've actually thought about this. I think the beauty of having freshmen and upperclassmen, the upperclassmen are strong (while) our freshmen, they have a lot to prove. They want to prove something. It's not a freshman class that's scared; it's a freshman class that wants to prove something. Sometimes that can be dangerous, in a good way. You could have a Reggie and Klay having an awesome game and you bring in a freshman who has been waiting to prove himself and he can just compliment those guys. And we have good kids. We don't have knuckleheads. We've got kids who go to class and who want to be ball players. We're in the gym sometimes until 1 in the morning. We're in there playing three-on-three, one-on-one transition, something. I remember this summer, we were there 1:30, that's the latest we were there. I've never been around a core group of guys who want to be in the gym as much. You can't be mad a gym rats. Gym rats mean better ball.
Q: One of those freshmen, Patrick Simon, committed here when he was 14. A little different road than yours, right?
A: That's the beauty of it too. It's so amazing how we've all come together. A guy like Patrick committed here before I did. When you look at the big picture, it's cool to see that development come. And, looking at the future of our season, it's good to see a guy like Pat is here. I'm happy he's here. I'm happy Andre (Winston) is here. I'm happy Faisal (Aden) is here. I'm happy Klay is here. We have all those pieces and they're going good together. Our chemistry is good.
Q: How's your health?
A: It's good. I feel rejuvenated. I'm just in a different spot this year. Last year I was a little bummed, my knee was hurting but I feel like I've been jumping higher, and mark my words, I'm going to break a backboard this year. I'm up there. I'm slamming harder, I'm heavier. I'm happy with my health and my play right now. Obviously, I want to get better.
Q: Not playing overseas this summer, did that help your health?
A: Ya. It also helped because Klay and I, we were doing our thing and our team was doing another thing. But this summer we were able to kick it, get up at 5 in the morning with our teammates. It wasn't like we weren't doing something like that at USA, but this time we're doing it with our guys that we're going to be with all year. Doing that builds character and chemistry. You can look at Reggie and see he's dog-tired, but we're out here doing this stuff together.
Q: Lastly, I know when you were a kid I'm sure you dreamt about playing in the NBA. Then you find out how hard it is when you get to college because there are a lot of guys in this league that are good enough to play in the NBA. Now you're an upperclassman. Do you that dream is something you can realize and do you know how to reach that dream now?
A: Coming in my freshman year, it was like you said, I'm dreaming of playing in the NBA. Now I'm preparing for the NBA. When I step into a gym, I'm working on my jumper so I can have a jumper at the next level. It's not "I'm so happy I made it here," I haven't made it anywhere. I want to have a great season and I want to play in the NBA and I'm preparing to play in the NBA.
That's it for now. We'll be over at Paul Wulff's press conference this afternoon and then out to practice. We'll post our story after practice. Until then ...