Before arriving at Columbia in the fall of 2015, junior forward Josie Little was one of the most highly sought-after recruits in women’s basketball’s history. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches—the tallest player on the women’s roster—she dominated in the paint and demonstrated a knack for shooting.
But in her second season in Morningside Heights, Little suffered an undisclosed injury in January of 2017 that ultimately derailed her season, bringing her promising career to a temporary halt.
She wasn’t the only player to suffer a season-ending injury in Columbia basketball that season. Senior guard Kyle Castlin—who also impressed early in his career by averaging over 10 points per game in his first season—was forced to lose a year of in-conference eligibility after undergoing toe surgery that ended his junior campaign.
Although both players were sidelined for the majority of the 2016-17 season, head coach Megan Griffith, CC ’07 and men’s basketball head coach Jim Engles were optimistic that both Little and Castlin could return to the floor to help their respective teams.
Prior to this season, Little registered a 10-point, 6-rebound performance against Cornell in her Ivy League debut as a first-year, demonstrating the potential for which she was recruited by former head coach Sheila Roux. When Griffith returned to Columbia as a first-time head coach, Little was projected to be a significant contributor in her second year in Morningside Heights. After starting 12 of 13 games to begin her sophomore season, Little was primed for a breakout Ivy Season but was unable to finish her season.
Both Little and Castlin faced the tall task of recovering from serious injuries, and each relied on fervent optimism that they would soon return to the court and continue their careers in Morningside Heights.
On opening day of the 2017-18 season, while Little continued to recover from her injury, Castlin returned to the men’s basketball lineup against Villanova. In 22 minutes, Castlin collected 10 points, four assists, and a team-leading six rebounds. Castlin relished the opportunity to return to the floor in front of his family, who traveled from Georgia to see the senior play his first game in two seasons.
“It was very important for me just because it was the first time I had played in over a season,” Castlin said. “It was an opportunity to show what we could do on a big stage.”
But in the last two minutes of the game, Castlin fell hard on his elbow, sustaining a deep bone bruise that has held him out of action since. While Castlin is being evaluated on a week-to-week basis, the Light Blue has struggled to a 1-7 overall record in his absence, being forced to adjust to the loss of Castlin and eagerly awaiting the return of his dynamic skillset.
“I needed to be taken out and in that moment, and I was so frustrated,” Castlin said. “I know my body, I think, pretty well, so I knew that it wasn’t anything, like, I’ll be able to play next game, because if it was then I would have played through it.”
Before his latest ailment, Castlin was guaranteed to start this season. In his absence, other guards have had to step up, primarily junior guard Quinton Adlesh, who has averaged 11 points per contest so far this season, including a career-best 23 against Longwood in Columbia’s only victory of the season. Additionally, younger guards have seen valuable court time that will pay dividends when Ivy League play commences, especially first-year Gabe Stefanini. The Bologna, Italy native leads the team in field goal conversion rate, at 66.6 percent.
Meanwhile, just a few weeks after Castlin was injured in Villanova, Little made her season debut on Thanksgiving Day against Green Bay at the Cancun Challenge, quickly shouldering a starter’s workload. Despite only playing in five games this season, Little has averaged 24.8 minutes per contest this season, steadily improving while reacclimating to the pace of the offense. Griffith spoke highly of Little’s return in preparation for the upcoming season.
“I think Josie is committed to evolving her game, and the players that don’t are the players that get held back,” Griffith said. “She still has a long way to go, especially because she’s missed so much game time, but since she’s been able to extend her range, she hasn’t lost her aggressive mentality, which has been really helpful.”
Little attributed her return in large part to an often trying rehabilitation process. She will continue to start for the Lions as Ivy League play awaits. And while Castlin is still injured, he plans to return at some point this season.
“I was finally back, playing, getting another opportunity to play college basketball at Columbia and then I got hurt,” Castlin said. “My rehab is going, and I’m just doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible.”