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Colin Castleton announces return to Florida for 2022-23 season

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The big man is back.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Virginia Tech at Florida Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators men’s basketball program added an excellent new piece to the roster Todd Golden is assembling for the 2022-23 season on Saturday with the commitment of Belmont transfer Will Richard.

It turns out that was just a prelude to Florida’s biggest possible addition to its roster — Colin Castleton, the fulcrum of its last one, who announced on Monday that he will return for a fifth collegiate season in Gainesville.

Castleton was a fourth-year senior in the 2021-22 season, and participated in Senior Day festivities with the Gators, with some expectation that he would leave for the professional ranks after the year. (He also participated in some aspects of the 2021 NBA Draft preparation process before making an expected return to Florida.)

But insiders had quietly pointed to a possibility of Castleton staying for another year in Gainesville for weeks. And Castleton is making a logical decision to stay close to home — Castleton is from Orlando and attended Daytona Beach’s Father Lopez Catholic School in high school — while continuing to work on his game, reap some of the rewards of being a prominent and well-liked college athlete through name, image, and likeness deals, and possibly pilot Florida back to the NCAA Tournament.

The decision was probably made easier by the torn labrum in his left shoulder that interrupted and diminished Castleton’s superb senior season. While he would opt against season-ending surgery on the shoulder, ultimately return to the court after missing six games in January and early February, and play admirably well over the finish of Florida’s season, he was not quite as dominant a rim protector down that stretch, and often seemed to be sacrificing some of his hallmark defensive intensity to preserve the ability to carry a significant load for the Gators’ offense.

That torn labrum — and a more permanent fix for it than brief rest — would also have significantly limited Castleton’s participation in a pre-draft process for the 2022 NBA Draft, an event that was not predicted to feature his name being called even given perfect health. And though another healthy year of college basketball likely won’t do that much to change those fortunes, Castleton’s chances of making the NBA or of having a high-level pro career probably hinge on him being able to keep his defensive ability while adding range to his jump shot, something he has tried to show in fits and starts as a Gator.

One thing that might help that effort substantially? A full season in Golden’s offense, which generated about 200 three attempts for players 6’8” and taller in 2021-22, and could be tweaked to create those chances for Castleton, even though he is 0-for-17 from three in his career. While Castleton will likely never be as good an option from three as he is inside, with a fine repertoire of post moves at his disposal, his return boosts Florida — and Golden’s chances of producing an immediate winning team — so massively that Florida and Golden should be invested in broadening his capabilities as a player even if his contributions would be substantial if he simply ran back his last two seasons in Gainesville.

And Golden has been aware of — and maybe eager for — the possibility of Castleton’s return, which suggests such a plan of continued development might have been in the works for weeks.

Castleton’s brief message in his social media-borne announcement doesn’t betray much of why he’s doing this, only alluding to the idea that he’s taking an unusual step by including the phrase “Everyone’s process is different.” But it can be fairly inferred that Castleton and his Gators failing to make the 2022 NCAA Tournament left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Now, with another senior season in his future, he will have a chance to make that taste something more like champagne.