No. 4 Salpointe thriving with longtime assistant Eric Castillo as head coach

Eric Castillo was not necessarily biding his time serving under five different head coaches at Salpointe over the previous 17 seasons.

He was making the most of his time with a school he became endeared with since his childhood years.

“I went to a parochial school, Santa Cruz, so I used to play in that (Salpointe) gym in the ’60s,” Castillo recalled after the Lancers’ 78-53 win at Canyon del Oro on Tuesday night. “Salpointe is like a second home to me. It’s like family there. Coaching there now so long, it just feels like home.”

Salpointe coach Eric Castillo gives directions to junior guard Canyon Torres (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Castillo was a heady 6-foot post player who attended neighborhood school Cholla and played for Mel Vogel there before graduating in 1976. He emerged as one of the Chargers’ top scorers.

He started coaching at Salpointe in the lower levels under Michael Steward in 2004-05, a year before his youngest of three sons, Clark Castillo, joined the varsity team as a freshman.

Not once did the elder Castillo, 63, actively pursue the head coaching position in transition years from Steward to Sean Loomer in 2006, Loomer to Jerry Zander in 2009, Zander to Brian Holstrom in 2010 and Holstrom to Jim Reynolds in 2017.

“I was always a facilitator,” Castillo acknowledged. “I was always the guy in the back, just helping out.”

The idea of finally becoming a head coach at the varsity level — he served as head coach for the junior varsity and freshman teams at Salpointe — started to perculate when Reynolds decided to retire last season after 43 years of coaching, the last four with the Lancers.

“Jim told me, ‘Hey, man, you know, you can do this thing,'” Castillo said. “He retired and he recommended me. I got letters of recommendation through him, from Coach Holstrom and from Gary Malis, who was at Sabino for four years and who I coached with at Sporting Chance. So I just had some great support behind me.

“It was just a kind of a logical thing.”

Salpointe is 12-2 and ranked No. 4 in the state after losing its head coach and top scorer (Brady Ramon) from last season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Salpointe made Castillo’s hiring as head coach official in April.

“Amazing” support, he said, also came from his wife Charlene, who knew that the many hours her husband spent at the gym will continue with added pressure of becoming the head coach.

Reynolds, who coached the Lancers to their first state title in 2019-20, retired to devote more time with his wife, daughter and grandchildren in Denver.

He may have left coaching but the profession has not left him.

Reynolds is in Tucson this week visiting his son Ryan Reynolds, the former Arizona basketball director of operations who is now at the university as the assistant athletic director for administration and operations.

Mixed in with that visit is spending time consulting Castillo and his staff Chase Babb and Blaise Babicke at games and practices.

Reynolds assists Castillo from his Denver home serving as an analyst and scouting opponents by watching video tape.

“I’ll do the statistics from the games,” said Reynolds, who sat behind Salpointe’s bench during the win over CDO. “A lot of times, I’ll watch a game live and then I’ll watch it off Hudl off our video system just to get the the stats done. I’ll also do some scouting from our video system. I try to send (Castillo) some stuff that I could see because I just know how busy it is to be a coach.”

Reynolds added that he and Castillo in their brief four years together at Salpointe were a “great fit” and that Castillo “was the best assistant coach I had in my 43 years as a coach.”

“With how he helped me get going at Salpointe, I felt like I owed him big time,” Reynolds said. “This keeps me busy. In the evenings, my wife goes to bed maybe or is watching movie or something, and I’m just sitting over at the kitchen table with the computer doing some stuff. It keeps me hopping.”

Reynolds hoped to take in three games while in Tucson this week, but the Lancers’ region games with Cholla and Sahuaro have been postponed because of COVID-19 cases within those programs. He will attend practices instead.

Castillo mentioned that a reason who pursued the job is because of the “COVID craziness going on” in an attempt to keep some normalcy for the returning players.

“I didn’t want the kids to come back to something strange or to a whole new environment,” he said. “We kept the same coaches. I’ve got a great coaching staff, a young, aggressive coaching staff. We wanted the kids to have some stability.”

The program has that continuity but it also has some new leadership after losing seniors Brady Ramon, Tommy Irish, Myles Hersha and Nico Castaneda from last year’s team that reached the 4A state semifinals.

Dillan Baker, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, has progressed from last year’s sixth man to one of the top talents in the state averaging 14.2 points after his 26-point performance against CDO.

Brett Rosenblatt, a senior guard averaging 12.3 points and a team-best 5.9 rebounds a game, did not play against the Dorados because he is in COVID-19 protocol.

Guards Canyon Torres, a junior, and Juan Riesgo, a senior, are also averaging scoring in double figures. Torres is scoring 12.1 points a game while leading the team with 3.3 assists per game. Riesgo is at 11.4 points a game with a team-high 2.4 steals per game.

“Julian, I think, is the best point guard in Southern Arizona,” Castillo said. “He does so many of the little things. So many of the little things that aren’t in the box score comes from our senior leadership (including James Smotherman who averages 7.1 points a game).

“Our kids just buy into what we’re doing, how we coach and what we expect of them, which is a lot of energy and playing hard all of the time.”


Salpointe, ranked No. 4 in the state by the AIA in the latest 4A rankings, improved to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the 4A Kino with the win over CDO.

The Lancers also had 23 points from Torres and nine from junior forward Pasha Shemirani and seven each from Riesgo and Smotherman.

The eighth-ranked Dorados (8-4, 2-2) were led by junior quard Tyson Helms’ 27 points, which included five 3-pointers, including three in the first quarter. Stetson Krenz added eight points and Jose Zazueta had seven.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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