By KEVIN McNAMARA
The awful summer of COVID-19 may have just helped the Providence College Friars on the recruiting trail.
Rafael Castro, a 6-10 forward from Dover, N.J., announced his college selection Thursday night and picked the Friars over finalists Miami and Dayton. He had also considered VCU, Seton Hall, George Mason and many other schools before trimming his list to three finalists last month.
“I’m excited to announce my commitment to Providence College,” Castro said.
Castro is a modern day big man, a long, lithe, skilled player who can protect the rim on defense but prefers to showcase his ability all over the floor on offense. He dominated as a prep junior at small school Dover, averaging 20.3 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. But his summer action with Team Rio University program on the Under Armour circuit was severely limited by the pandemic. Those restrictions curtailed how much of a national profile Castro – and thousands of other members of the Class of 2021 – could have built.
“He didn’t get a chance to go on the national circuit,” said Team Rio founder Brian Klatsky, “but he’s a forward who is 6-10, has a long way to go to fill out physically and can do a lot of things on the floor.”
Klatsky and Team Rio coach Brian Coleman continued to work with players in their program all summer and into the fall. They even sponsored a `media night’ for Team Rio players and distributed film to coaches around the country.
One coach became hooked last year – Ed Cooley. The Friars jumped into the mix with Castro, first with assistant Jeff Battle, but Coleman said once Cooley took over Providence shot up the ladder with Castro.
“Coach Cooley saw something in him,” Coleman said. “I have never seen a head coach recruit a player this hard. He’s really recruited the kid and his family.”
In every recruiting class Cooley chooses to deploy a laser-like focus on a few targets. He was the personal recruiter for Bryce Hopkins, the top 30 recruit who ultimately picked Kentucky. But he also focused on adding Castro to the team’s frontcourt and closed the deal.
The NCAA’s new pandemic eligibility rule that awards an extra year of eligibility to every player for 2020-21 opens the door for PC seniors Nate Watson and Noah Horchler to return in 2021-22 if they choose. Neither player will make that decision until the spring, but Castro and fellow Class of 2021 commit Legend Geeter help fortify the team’s frontcourt.
Castro is a top 150 (136th via Rivals) recruit. Team Rio’s Coleman has helped tutor several New Jersey area big men – like Lakers rookie Naz Reid – who went on the prep All-America and NBA careers and he says he loves Castro’s upside.
“We first got him I think he was a freshman and he was, like, 6-7. Now he’s all of 6-10 and I think he might be 6-11. He’s still growing,” Coleman said. “The first thing I noticed is he’d try to block every shot and chase rebounds. I tell him now, he’s making threes and putting the ball on the floor but if he stays that active on defense, he can make some money in this game.”