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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Family has helped keep UConn’s Stephon Castle humble

    UConn’s Stephon Castle stands with his mother Quannette and his father Stacey after the Big East Conference tournament final on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. (photo courtesy of Evan Rodriguez)

    Storrs – Throughout his basketball journey, freshman Stephon Castle has followed his parents’ advice.

    Keep working, stay humble.

    Those words of wisdom have served as Castle’s foundation and helped him reach impressive heights.

    On Friday, Castle will be in the starting lineup when No. 1 UConn begins its quest to try to win back-to-back national championships by taking on No. 16 seed Stetson at 2:45 p.m. in first round action at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Castle, a 6-foot-6 guard from Covington, Ga., feels blessed to be in this position.

    “It’s super crazy, especially in my first year to be on a team like this, and to be granted the No. 1 overall seed, it’s just super surreal,” Castle said. “It’s something that you don’t ever really expect or imagine. It’s just really something you dream of.”

    • • • •

    Stacey Castle’s message to his son has remained the same over the years.

    “Keep the main thing, the main thing,” Stacey said. “Continue to work, stay humble. And the goal is to get better every year. That’s what we’ve stuck by. And playing the game the right way is something that we’ve preached all along.

    “He actually adopted it at a young age and it’s great to see him still carry it on in college. I think that’s going to help him.”

    Stacey and his wife Quannette were on hand at Madison Square Garden in New York last week to watch their son receive the Big East freshman of the year award.

    An unanimous choice, Castle thanked his parents during his acceptance speech. A former college basketball player at Wake Forest and Central Florida, Stacey coached his son on the AAU level.

    “They play a big part,” Stephon said. “They support me a lot with everything. My Dad, he used to play, so to have that in your corner is super helpful. He’s been a great tool for me to just use and just help me keep my head on straight and stay humble.”

    Stacey and Quannette have racked up frequent flier miles this season, traveling from their home in Covington, Ga, to nearly every UConn basketball game, home and away. They made the trip even when Steph sat out six games with a knee injury during the non-conference schedule.

    Count on the Castles, whose family has deep roots in New York, being along for the March Madness ride.

    They’re thrilled that Stephon decided to attend UConn and play for coach Dan Hurley.

    It’s been a match made in heaven, Stacey said.

    “He wanted to get coached, that’s why he chose this school,” Stacey said. “He saw coach (Hurley) in practice in rare form. He knew if he stayed somewhere in his comfort zone where he went and somebody allowed him to just do whatever he wanted on the court, it would be harder for him to get better.

    “The cerebral part and his skill, I’ve always believed in it. I knew the match with UConn and the work that he was going to get, I knew it would help him move his needle.”

    • • • •

    From the day Castle arrived on the Storrs campus, he was a star in the making.

    Castle was a consensus five-star recruit, one of the top rated newcomers in program history. He earned McDonald’s All-American status while at Newton High School.

    He’s lived up to enormous expectations.

    He’s played a significant role for the Big East regular season and league tournament title champions, averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He’s excelled on the defensive end as well. He set a Big East record by winning 11 freshman of the week honors.

    Mock NBA drafts project that Castle will be a high first round pick, if he decides to leave school early.

    His accomplishments haven’t gone to his head. He stays focused on the work and helping his team.

    “The accolades really don’t mean anything if you don’t complete the job,” Castle said. “That’s what my pops has always told me. I’ve seen so many guys have as much accolades as I do or even more, but they don’t make it the way they want to.

    “So I try not to get distracted by that, and just I keep my head down and stay humble and keep working.”

    Castle has taken that same low key approach his entire basketball life, according to Quannette.

    “He’s been like that from a very young age,” Quannette said. “He’s just let basketball come to him. He’s continuing to learn. He’s a freshman on the team and he’s learning from his coaches and teammates. He’s not going to be perfect all the time, but he’s going to continue to get better. And he’s taking it all in. That’s just the way he’s always been, which is great.

    “… He just wants to play and he wants to get better. And he loves Connecticut. … He definitely presents himself as laid back. But he is a competitor and he has that fire. I think it’s come out some this season. But keep watching.”

    Castle will make his NCAA tournament debut on Friday. The Huskies will need him to play at his usual high level to advance deep into the tournament.

    Hurley never worries about Castle, or Castle’s parents.

    He’s happy that all three are members of the UConn basketball family.

    “With him, give all the credit to his humility, give all the credit to his parents,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “I’ve said this a bunch, he doesn’t have fans, he’s got parents. … When you have that and you have his talents, things are going to go well.

    “So credit to the family.”

    • • • •

    When UConn’s season finally ends, the Castle family will have a big decision to make.

    It may be difficult for Castle to return for another season given his lofty projected draft status.

    But decision day can wait for now.

    “I think everybody would probably be thinking that when you’re in the position, you always think about that,” Quannette said. “But we have not made a decision as a family. Obviously, like we always do, we will make the best decision for our family at that time. Whatever that is, hopefully, it’s the right decision.”

    No matter what his future is, Castle will remain the same hard-working, humble player that he is now.

    His parents will make sure of that.

    “When Steph comes home, he still has to do the dishes and take the garbage out,” Quannette said. “None of that changes. We have not changed as a family. This is just a process, so he needs to remain being Steph and not change into another person.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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