Pittsburgh street legend Castile making name for himself
They call him "Black Mar," a nickname he picked up in grade school.
He played only one season of high school basketball and never competed in Division I or Division II hoops.
Meet Lamar Castile, a seven-year pro basketball journeyman considered one of Pittsburgh's greatest playground stars in the past two decades.
"He might be at the top of the list of (street-ball legends)," said Mark Javens, who coached Castile at Community College of Beaver County in 2001-03. "You're talking the last 20-25 years, he was playing against (former Pitt star) Julius Page and guys like that, and he was winning MVP awards."
Castile, 29, isn't a household name. Even the Pro-Am summer league he plays in can't get his name right — he is listed as "Lamar Caskill" on rosters and stat sheets.
But talk to the men at the city's outdoor courts or ask the Division I stars at Pitt and Duquesne, and they speak of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Castile with a sense of reverence.
"When I first got here, everyone was talking about Black Mar," said Pitt redshirt sophomore guard Travon Woodall, who is Castile's teammate in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am summer league that opens its playoffs Monday. "I'm like, 'Who's Black Mar?' "
Woodall soon found out. Pittsburgh isn't known for its playground stars such as the slick ballers at Rucker Park in Harlem or the North Philly courts. Castile is about as close as it gets. He played one season at Brashear — bad grades ruined his first three seasons — before beginning a whirlwind journey of junior colleges and minor-league pro teams.
He will never be mentioned in the same breath as former City League greats Dwight Clay, Sam Clancy, Kenny Durrett, Maurice Lucas and DeJuan Blair, but ask any veteran basketball player from Western Pennsylvania in the past 15 years, and they have heard the legend of "Black Mar."
"Everything I did, I did on my own," said Castile, standing under gray skies on the blacktop at Kennard Park, down the street from his Hill District home. "I never went to any camps or played AAU."
Castile was the talk of the PBC Pro-Am League after starring on opening night last month. The most-asked question among the fans in Green Tree was: "Who's No. 37?" (Castile has since changed to No. 67 uniform for his team, UPMC).
"He's one of the most athletic players I've seen," Woodall said. "I don't know why a lot of people passed over him, but if I was someone overseas, I'd definitely be kicking myself for not having him on my team."
Castile led Brashear into the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs in 1997-98, losing to New Castle. Former Brashear basketball coach Ron Wabby said Castile was "one of the best athletes to ever come out" of the City League school, but bad grades derailed any chance of Division I basketball.
So Castile bounced around junior colleges in Florida and Nebraska before landing at CC-Beaver County, where he ranked among the top JUCO scorers in the nation at nearly 30 points per game in 2001-02 and 2002-03. He also led the team to the 2003 NJCAA national playoffs.
"He would intimidate guys," Javens said.
Without grades to get into a Division I school, Castile declared for the 2003 NBA Draft. He didn't get a call and began his nomadic career playing in an alphabet-soup of minor pro leagues. The ABA, the CBA, the WBA and the PBL. All told, he has played for 11 different pro teams since 2003.
Castile is looking for a new team for the upcoming season after being released in February by the Maryland GreenHawks of the Premier Basketball League.
"It's a grind," Castile said. "But if you love this game, and you are trying to get to that next level, you will do whatever you have to do."
Castile can sometimes be his own worst enemy. He was released by the ABA's Bluegrass (Ky.) Stallions last season due to a personality conflict with coach Kyle Macy.
Stallions general manager Matt DiLorenzo, a Wheeling, W. Va., native, said Castile's attitude can overshadow his ability.
"I think he's good enough to play in the NBA," DiLorenzo said. "But Lamar doesn't trust many people, and that's gotten him into some trouble. He's very hard-headed."
Castile endured his share of misfortunes. He signed with the Maryland GreenHawks in late January when a long-time associate, Otis Hailey, was hired as head coach. Hailey died unexpectedly of kidney failure four days later, and the new coaching staff released Castile nine days after that.
In March, Castile earned second-team honors on the ABA All-Decade team for 2000-09, joining players such as Harold Arceneaux, Tim Hardaway and Armon Gilliam.
Castile, who turns 30 in September, said he has matured over the years. He's no longer the know-it-all, uncoachable kid who was sometimes called "knuckle," for being a knucklehead.
"Talent ain't ever been the problem," he said. "Now, I look at things in a better way. I was young and hot-headed. I thought I knew a lot. I really didn't."
As a teen, Castile competed against college stars and grown men in no-holds barred pick-up games on the Hill. Black Mar was the youngest player on the court - and typically one of the best.
"I could never play with guys my age because it was a slower pace," he said. "And it really wasn't fun."
Castile got a shot at an NBA tryout after faring well in a 2003 summer league in Las Vegas.
"The Memphis Grizzlies took a liking to me after the second game," he said. "The first game, I had like 28 against Penny Hardaway. The second game, I had like 32 against Ricky Davis."
But the interest dropped off, and Castile ended up playing for the ABA's Long Beach Jam in 2003, a team coached by Paul Westhead. In 2006, while playing for the San Jose Skyrockets, he got into a tussle with former NBA star Tim Hardaway, the owner/player of the Florida Pitt Bulls. Like Hardaway, Castile possesses a wicked crossover dribble.
"We got to talking back and forth, (but) he took it a little too far," Castile said. "We were both going for the ball, and he tried to muscle me. But he couldn't muscle me. We both fell out (of bounds) and got up, and that was it."
After seven years of pro ball, Castile believes he's in his prime right now. He's smarter, more mature and in better shape. He has no regrets about a pro hoops journey that has included an 18-hour bus ride from Buffalo to Jacksonville.
"I've seen more of the world than any of the guys that come out of the neighborhood," he said. "Coming out of these projects, there isn't a lot you are going to do. (But) I got paid, whether it was $300 a week, $400 a week. I got paid to do something I love.
"It's taught me a lot. And I'm definitely not done."
Long and winding road
Season: Team/League — Notable
2003: Long Beach Jam/ABA — Won league title
2006: San Jose Skyrockets/ABA — Named first-team all-league
2006: Rome (Ga.) Gladiators/WBA — Multiple 20-point games for WBA champ
2006: Victoria Correcaminos/LNBP — Averaged 23.3 ppg
2007: Veracruz Halcones Rojos/LNBP — Scored game-high 32 pts vs. Chihuahua
2007: Buffalo Silverbacks/ABA — 37 points in playoff win at Jacksonville
2007: Oklahoma Cavalry/CBA — Signed as two-game emergency replacement
2009: Buffalo Stampede/PBL — Averaged 20 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
2009: Southeast Texas Mavericks/ABA — Named MVP of ABA Tip-off Classic
2009: Bluegrass (Ky.) Stallions/ABA — Averaged 19.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg
2010: Maryland GreenHawks/PBL — Averaged 20.5 ppg in two games
Key: American Basketball Association (ABA), Mexican Basketball League (LNBP), World Basketball Association (WBA), Continental Basketball Association (CBA), Premier Basketball League (PBL).