DeAngelo Casto and the art of the block

PULLMAN -- DeAngelo Casto is holding a block party, and everyone's invited. Well, maybe not anyone dressed in purple. But Coug fans, come on down. Casto, the energetic freshman forward of the Washington State Cougars, brings an intimidating -- and sophisticated -- shot-blocking presence to the nation's No. 1 defense.

He's third in the Pac-10 with 1.3 blocks per game, and his total of 37 blocks is a WSU freshman record and tied for eighth in school history for one season.

"He has impeccable timing," said WSU coach Tony Bennett, who witnessed some of the sport's legendary shot blockers during his playing days in the NBA. "All high-level shot blockers have great timing, and he just has that."

Unlike so many players, Casto doesn't try to swat blocked shots 15 rows into the stands to get a rise out of the crowd or a boost to his ego.

"When you go for a block and just send it out of bounds, that's a (lost) possession," Casto reasons. "Our defense (often) has already been on defense for quite a while."

Casto blocks with a purpose. The balls he swats typically land in the hands of a teammate. Or in Casto's own hands.

More surgeon than lumberjack, that's the mark of an artist at work. Casto is young, but when it comes to shot blocking he's way beyond his years.


CASTO TIED A WASHINGTON Class 4A state tournament record with eight blocks in Ferris' victory over Federal Way in the 2008 title game.

Still, Casto admits "it has surprised me a lot" to have so many blocks as a freshman -- particularly since he's a reserve averaging just 16 minutes per game.

Bennett said, "You've got guys that jump higher than him -- I mean, he jumps very well, don't get me wrong -- but it's more about timing.

"He's quick off his feet. He can kind of wait, then as they're going up -- OH! -- then he can go up.

"He doesn't need to ‘wind it up'."

Casto averages 4.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and he racked up season highs of 11 points and five assists in last Saturday's overtime win over No. 14 Arizona State. It is Casto's shot blocking and defense, however, that most impresses Bennett.

"On the ball screens, he'll chase guys out to half court," Bennett said. "He's so quick laterally.

"He really gets excited about playing D. He loves that. He's one of the few guys, when we're in practice, if he's with the first group and it's not his turn to get reps, he'll say, 'Can I go to the A team and play defense?'

"I just love his willingness to play. He has the strength accompanied with the lateral quickness and speed to be a real good defender."

WSU fans quickly fell in love with Casto, and vice versa. "I love the crowd," Casto said. "I feed off the crowd. I yell at the crowd. I mingle with the crowd.

"I play for my teammates and my coaches, obviously, but I play for them (fans, too)."

Casto said he appreciates that many Cougar fans stand in line outside Beasley Coliseum for hours, or even stay overnight.

"I like to give them something back," the personable youngster said. "It's not much, but you yell at the crowd to acknowledge that they're there, give them a high five -- they go crazy! That keeps 'em coming back."

Caleb Forrest is a hard-working, 6-foot-8 forward like Casto, but Forrest has only four more blocked shots in four years at WSU than Casto has in one year. Forrest said he found out the hard way about the new kid's shot-blocking ability during one of WSU's unofficial summer workouts last year.

"I was shooting from the baseline," Forrest recalled, "and he was under the basket. I was like, ‘Oh, I've got this easy.'

"So I took my time lining up, and he blocked it. So I was like, ‘OK, next time I'll shoot it a little quicker.'"

Forrest calls Casto "a unique athlete. He gives us a lot of stuff our other big guys don't have."

That includes shot blocking in particular -- though 6-10 center Aron Baynes ranks fourth in the Pac-10 with 1.1 blocks per game -- and athleticism in general. Casto's quickness and leaping ability poses all sorts of problems for opponents.

"He's going to change their shots, if nothing else," Forrest said. "He's kinda messin' with guys' heads."

Messin' with their heads, messin' with their shots, messin' with their passes … Casto ain't messin' around when it comes to playing defense.

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