"In an interview, you always say, ‘We're getting bigger. We're getting stronger,'" Casto said Monday. "But I live with these guys and I play with these guys every day. As a whole, we're just clicking better. We want to win. We want to do everything better.
"I think we've taken it upon ourselves to just be in that state all the time and not let anything come between our team or come between the success that we hope we are going to have during the year."
Last year's 10-2 start against so-so non-conference competition was more than offset by a 2-10 finish against Pac-10 rivals. The Cougars finished last in the Pac-10 at 6-12 and wound up 16-15 overall.
Since then, the Cougars' lone senior (part-time starter Nikola Koprivica) has graduated, and a host of reserves – headlined by Xavier Thames -- transferred. The Cougars have no seniors and lack proven talent up front besides Casto.
"We've got great freshmen coming in," Casto said. "We're more mature and a little thicker and bigger on the court. I think we're going to take the league by storm."
Casto, listed at 6-foot-8 and 241 pounds last season, now weighs 255.
"It's a great 255," Casto said. "I'm still moving at the same pace … I realize if I'm going to play down there with the big dogs, I've got to get a little bigger and try to throw my weight around a little big more."
Casto said sophomore center Steven Bjornstad, who was listed at 6-10 and 217 last year, "has put on about 23 pounds." If Bjornstad can help out more down low, it will free up Casto to take advantage of the work he has put in this summer "on my jump shot and more of a face-up game from 15 feet."
Casto, who has often struggled academically after surviving a nightmarish early childhood that included limited schooling, said rumors that he might be academically ineligible next season "are not true at all." He sounds eager to show off his -- and his team's -- new and improved game.
"We were a young team last year," Casto said. "We're getting closer. Chemistry -- we've gotten real close over the summer."
In addition to rat ball, lifting weights, other unofficial workouts and the occasional "scrimmage" against Idaho, Casto said the Cougars make certain they see one another off the court.
"We all get along, so we want to spend time with each other," Casto said. "It doesn't matter what we're doing. We sit around and play FIFA Soccer for a couple hours or have a barbecue. That's one thing that you can't really teach or practice is having guys actually appreciate each other. I think the freshmen have sprinkled in real nicely and fit with our chemistry."
Casto likes to think he can whip anyone, young or old, in video soccer.
"Obviously, I'm the best," he said with no small amount of swagger.
Of course, Casto is far more concerned with having the Cougars be the best in basketball. "I never want to say stuff like, ‘Our goal is to win the Pac-10,'" Casto said. "Talk is cheap. My goal for my team is that we show up every game, we play hard every game. At the end of the day, we can't be mad at ourselves for the outcome, because usually if we're putting our heart on the line every single game and we hustle and we find a way to muscle out and grind out some tough plays, we're going to come out winners."