1-on-1 With GA Donovan Castro

Mississippi State men's basketball graduate assistant coach Donovan Castro talks one-on-one with Gene's Page

You worked as a student-manager with Ben Howland when he was the head coach at UCLA. Due to that, you had a unique perspective since you worked with him, the assistant coaches and the players. Plus, you were more the players age. Give your thoughts about Coach Howland and the success that he had while at UCLA based on that perspective.
"I think Coach Howland's success is based on his attention to detail. Everything is broken down to the smallest things, things such as shot selection, form, things like that. His players and his coaching staff knows that. His style of play is based on attention to detail, from defense to offense. What he instills immediately is that attention to detail. And he has done that here during the early months that he has been here. I think that is what separates Coach Howland from other coaches and what makes him really successful."

The second year you worked with him at UCLA there was a dramatic improvement. What do you attribute that improvement to?
"First off, that first year we were playing all of our home games away due to renovating Pauley Pavilion that first season. Not having that home base kind of had an effect on our players. There was no home court advantage. Plus, the next season we had that great recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation coming in. And we had (North Carolina State transfer) Larry Drew coming in after sitting out. Bringing all of that to Pauley really sparked that energy from the fans and helped cause the players to be excited to be back at Pauley. You could see it on Coach (Howland's) face, too. And the players saw that."

How did Coach Howland get so many new players, freshmen and a transfer, to mesh so well? Does he have a gift for doing that kind of thing?
"He definitely has a gift for that. And the freshmen, who he was able to successfully recruit, also had great skill level. The three freshmen who started, Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, were flat out skilled. And he was able to mold them to his system perfectly. And Coach Howland energy on the court, in practice, in games, caused the players to understand what he wanted from them. He made them believe they could win, no matter who was playing. He got those three freshman, Larry Drew and returner Travis Ware, who was also highly skilled, on board really quickly."

You have been here with Coach Howland for several weeks. You have seen what he is doing with the players. Do you see similar things being done in practice with the returning players and freshmen?
"I 100% see it. The freshmen are open to change, open to his ideas, open to his philosophy. And that is going to elevate their game. They know he is one of the top coaches in the country and they know he will elevate their game. They are going as hard as they can. And that is what he asks from them."

Are you seeing that from the veterans, too?
"At first, the veterans kind of took a step back because this was a totally different system. They were curious. You could see it in their faces. But in the four weeks that I have been here and in the workouts that I have seen, the veterans are already taking on that leadership role under Coach Howland. They are showing the young guys that they know what it takes to play at this level. They may not have played for Coach Howland but they have played at this level and know what it takes. I think they have all bought into what Coach Howland is trying to do here."

The chemistry on the coaching staff appears to be really good. You have worked with several of the coaching staff members in the past. Why do you think the chemistry is so good?
"We have all worked together and understand each other, know each other, and love each other not only in the basketball world but as people, too. I think that is why we get along so well on the court and outside of the office. I would run through a brick wall for Coach Howland and the entire staff."

How did you wind up being hired here at Mississippi State?
"I was at Arizona State and worked with Coach Jason Ludwig (now MSU's Director of Basketball Operations) for a season. We really worked well together when we were both there. He had hired me at UCLA as the student-manager and assistant videographer. We worked together really well there. We kept in contact. I also knew Coach Korey (McCray) really well. We had also kept in contact. And after last year, my first year as a graduate assistant at Arizona State, Jason and Coach Howland both called me and said they had a graduate assistant position open here (at Mississippi State) and asked if I would like to come. Without any hesitation I said yes because I wanted to be back with the crew that I originally started with. I knew the system and the philosophy of Coach Howland and his staff and I wanted to be a part of that again."

You probably don't think about this. Coach Howland, who is considered one of the top coaches in all of college basketball, personally called you wanting to bring you onboard with his staff, knowing he could have called just about anybody in the country and hired them but he chose you. How big of a deal is that to you?
"Looking back on it, it is truly special. It is truly special to be able to work with Coach Howland again. I truly believe he knows that I am going to come in here and day-in, day-out work as hard as I did when I was at UCLA with him to help make this team successful. I am truly blessed to be here and I'm anxious to get the season started."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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