STORRS — Stephon Castle walked into the quiet of an empty Gampel Pavilion on a recent Monday morning, a day after he delighted a vibrant sellout crowd with dunks and defense and all sorts of other contributions towards the UConn men’s basketball team’s blowout victory over Seton Hall.

“It’s just crazy to play here,” Castle said. “The fans, you can really feel the energy right behind you. It’s just surreal. Especially at this young age, to be able to do it at school like this, is just a blessing.”

If exclamation points were needed on Castle’s development as a freshman, one was applied against the Pirates in the home finale. It was his seventh game at Gampel, and probably his last. He finished with 21 points in 28 minutes, making 9 of 12 shots and, as usual, giving the opposing team’s top scorer fits, in this case Kadary Richmond.

From there, the Huskies wrapped up the regular season with road victories at Marquette and Providence. Now they’re rolling into the postseason, trying to partner a Big East Tournament championship with the outright regular season title they clinched and celebrated that Sunday against Seton Hall.

The Huskies climbed ladders, snipped nets and soon disappeared, potentially marking the end of for the shooting star across the domed Gampel planetarium that has been Castle’s time in Storrs. He’s probably too talented in general and too accomplished in what he has shown over just 25 college games — so far, of course — to return as a sophomore in 2024-25.

UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) and UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) react in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in Stores, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) and UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) react in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in Stores, Conn.

“I let my parents handle everything and I try to focus on hooping,” Castle said. “All season, I really haven’t talked to anybody about that or tried to make any arrangements or plans with that. I’m just fully locked in on trying to play good this season and help our team win. Of course, that sits in the back your head, but when you’re playing and we have such a great culture, you just get blinded by it all and you just try to play good for the guys around you.”

UConn has as many as nine games left, the potential for three at Madison Square Garden, where Castle is expected to be honored Wednesday with the conference’s freshman of the year award. He is averaging 11.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, three assists and 26.8 minutes while shooting 47.4 percent from the field. He has racked up a record 11 freshman-of-the-week awards from the Big East. That’s two more than Allen Iverson’s nine in 1994-95, and one more than Carmelo Anthony’s 10 in 2002-03.

Six more games could come in the NCAA Tournament, legacy-defining time for teams, coaches, players. Then Castle, projected as a lottery selection in the June NBA Draft should he forgo his final three years of college eligibility, will have a decision to make and/or announce. The only one-and-done player in UConn history is Andre Drummond, who went ninth overall to the Pistons in 2012 after one season under Jim Calhoun.

“I’ll ask Coach what’s his opinion on it first,” Castle said of Dan Hurley. “He’s always been great knowing what’s best for us. He’s very unselfish. He wouldn’t try and hold you back, for sure, if it’s time for you to go. So I feel like that will be first and then just looking at like, potentially, where you could go, I guess would be next.”

UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Hartford, Conn.

Would Castle, 19, benefit from another year in college? Of course. Any player would. But that’s not the way the world and basketball business work so often anymore. If you’re so well positioned for opportunity, and life-changing money, you usually take it. Those back on and around campus understand, thank you, hang a banner in a gym and everyone moves on to their next personal chapters.

Castle, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Covington, Ga., suburban Atlanta, came to UConn expecting to spend one year with the program, or at least knowing a departure after one season should become a realistic option if he lived up to his potential. He has through incremental progress, tiptoeing out of an early-season injury that sidelined him for nearly a month and making such loud steps since.

“Coming from high school, you think just because you get recruited here that it’ll be easy and it’s not,” he said. “So just continuing to work every day and trusting in your coaches, not complaining at all, that’s what kind of helped me. Once I realized it’s just basketball like it’s been my whole life, just playing with confidence, then I started to figure some things out.

“Part of the reason I chose to come here was to play for Coach Hurley and he doesn’t let you take a play off. So when you’re talented, it’ll show when you’re playing super hard. I feel like that’s probably the biggest difference that I’ve seen since I’ve been here, to make a change from high school. We don’t take a play off. We feel like every possession matters in the game, no matter if we’re up 20 or up to two.”

Castle is a fulcrum for what can be accomplished this month and next. He’s so powerfully smooth in the way he works toward the basket, patient but aggressive. It’s NBA stuff that most develop over a longer period of time. It comes naturally to him. So, too, did guarding top-scoring perimeter players. That type of responsibility, so key to UConn’s potential, was new to him.

“In high school, I never realized that I was as good as a defender as I am now because I didn’t have to guard the ball as much,” he said. “I was like the biggest player on my team, so I probably had to guard other players, bigger players, go get the rebound and push. Now that I’m playing with a full, complete team, I can really show my talents and my skills on that end and our coaches give us great scouts every game. That’s helped me a lot, just being able to have that kind of trust to go guard the other team’s best player. It’s cool to know that that we have one of the best defenses in the country and that you can be the head of that snake.”

UConn head coach Dan Hurley, left, reacts with Stephon Castle, right, looking on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Philadelphia. UConn won 66-65. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)UConn head coach Dan Hurley, left, reacts with Stephon Castle, right, looking on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Philadelphia. UConn won 66-65. 

The one knock on Castle’s game has long been the inconsistency of his jump shot, but he’s proven that isn’t such a liability after all. He made a 3-pointer in the opener against Northern Arizona, then went seven consecutive games without make one or attempting many, going 0-for-7 in that stretch. He has made at least one 3 in 10 of 16 games since. He is shooting 30.2 percent from behind the arc, 34.1 since Jan. 5.

Castle needed to adjust to the physical demands of the college game, the overall demands of Hurley’s program. He needed to get up to speed, like any freshman. That was a June-December project and by the time 2023 was closing he was a different player, having been a force down the stretch of a victory over St. John’s on Dec. 23. Something clicked that day and nothing’s been the same since.

“I gained a lot of confidence around that time,” Castle said. “That’s when I started to feel fully healthy and I was able to practice full-time again and I had a lot of trust coming in from my coaches and telling me to just keep my head on straight. And winning was helping, too. When you’re winning, you feel like you’re doing something right and you start getting that confidence, and then that confidence turns into a little bit of a swagger and then you’re starting to figure some things out.”

Castle said he thinks his injury actually helped the Huskies. Much like Samson Johnson starting in place of an injured Donovan Clingan, Solo Ball gained important experience with Castle sidelined. UConn is deep, balanced, tested up and down. The Huskies could lose their entire starting lineup in the offseason, which, of course, only speaks to just how good it is this season, during this pursuit of history.

“Being able to come in as a freshman and knowing your coaches and your teammates trust you to play your game, it’s definitely a good feeling — and to know that what I’m doing on the court is helping us win at a high level,” Castle said. “At this age, I feel like that’s why anybody would want.”

Maybe Castle has played his last game at Gampel, and at the XL Center. Maybe this week brings the only Big East Tournament of his career. Maybe he gets one shot at March Madness.

UConn men's basketball freshman Stephon Castle cuts down the nets at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday after Huskies clinched their first Big East regular-season title since 2006.UConn men’s basketball freshman Stephon Castle cuts down the nets at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday after Huskies clinched their first Big East regular-season title since 2006.

“I always heard it was a possibility,” he said of going to the NBA after one season. “So, coming in you have the confidence that it’s possible. That kind of helped me get through the summer a little bit, just playing with confidence and trying to be myself knowing you’re at UConn for a reason. Once the season started, that all goes out the window.

“Everybody’s super locked in. We don’t care who take shots. We don’t try to rush anything. We don’t care who gets to shine. Trying to just go out and go for yours is not helping us. I think we have one of the best coaches. I mean, I don’t know what it’s like at any other school, but it’s definitely the best culture team I’ve ever played for and hopefully I’ll be able to take that with me the rest of my career.”