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20 Under 30 

Young people doing kick-ass work in the Inland Northwest

JOE BERETA, 25 LUKE BARATS, 24 - Web Celebs

Sitting in Starbucks on Hamilton last Friday, Luke Barats (right) and Joe Bereta were recognized by a half-dozen people. They didn't really notice. No one asked for an autograph. Most didn't bother saying "hi." They'd just light up for a minute, then go about their day. A guy in his 30s did a cartoonish double-take. The eyes of a college-age woman in a green cardigan got squinty with mirth. The only person who approached them said, "I just had to tell you that my little brother made 'Mantage' his voice mail message."

Barats and Bereta are Internet video celebrities -- the extra-rare kind who are not only loved by a few million bored geeks and obsessive teenagers but who've also managed to make money.

"Mantage," a video playing with male stereotypes, has 1.3 million views on YouTube; their 32 videos combined top 43 million. It's all but guaranteed, though, that no one from Starbucks had seen the work that pays. People have zero chance of ever seeing the duo's first big payday -- from NBC (the TV network) for a sketch comedy pilot called Welcome to Culdesac -- unless either Barats or Bereta shows it to you personally. NBC ordered 20 comedy pilots last year and picked up one. Culdesac wasn't it. Such is the paradoxical fame of the viral videographer.

Despite being "complete dipshits" about pitching to Hollywood executives, the duo sold another pilot to NBC this season and also a film script to Relativity Media. If those don't pan out, they'll keep pitching.

They'd like all this work to yield permanent success in the Hollywood mainstream. Their artistic boundaries, though, remain firm. "I'd like to stay out of porn as long as possible," says Barats. (LUKE BAUMGARTEN_

CALIE CONNOR, 19 - Entrepreneur, Fashionista

One day last year, Calie Connor saw a great T-shirt in a Jason Mraz video on YouTube. She Googled it, found the company and made a call, wanting to get them in her Valley Mall boutique, Coco. Two phone calls and a Bay Area plane ride later, the company, Blend Apparel, had offered the 19-year-old a moonlighting gig as a consultant.

Calie Connor gets things done.

She had the idea to open Coco in September 2006. A month later, she was at market -- a once-every-six-weeks tradeshow in L.A. -- researching designers, trends and getting a feel for how one goes about buying small quantities of relatively high-end fashion. Six months later, the store opened.

Though lacking a formal education on the subject, Connor talks business with the kind of self-assurance that's rare even among MBAs. You have to offer a one-of-a-kind product but not out-price your client. You have to make the cutting edge seem familiar. Most important, she says, "You have to embody your clients."

Spokane ain't a Mecca for boutiques, and Connor was no guru -- she can't even remember going into a boutique before opening her own. So a lot of people said her idea wouldn't work.

It has, though. Coco was profitable its first month, with Connor managing three things that many retailers struggle for years to pull off. "I paid rent, I made payroll," she says, "and I had enough to restock my inventory." In the year since, she's continued to grow.

She seems to take joy in proving conventional wisdom wrong. "I want to put a stamp on our community and say, 'Look what we can do,." she says. "I like being in the Valley Mall. It shows what's possible." That glint she gets in her eye -- a killer-instinct-type thing -- makes you wonder what's not. (LB)

KRISTINA CRANE, 28 - Wellness Crusader

Immunization ain't sexy, and Kristina Crane is the first to admit it. With so much mass-marketed wellness in this sleek, shiny futurescape of ours, immunization isn't an aspect of healthy living that most people think much about. An entire generation of parents has grown up without the specter of smallpox or polio, and as a result, rigorous, on-time immunization -- the thing that keeps those beasts at bay -- has become either just an afterthought or else fodder for horror stories. ("Vaccines cause autism" is a popular one.)

The problem used to be how to get poor people the shots that they needed. Now that Washington state has free immunization for anyone younger than 19, and now that most of those truly horrible diseases we immunize against are all but eradicated, the problem has become keeping people informed and interested. Immunization needs a PR person.

Crane isn't that exactly, though it's become one of her duties. As chair of the Immunization Coalition and founder of the consulting firm KL Crane Associates, she works at both ends of the problem. As chairwoman, she seeks to keep health care professionals up to date on immunization schedules, best practices and how to talk down scared parents. At KL Crane, she works with Washington state's CHILD Profile registry, an online system for physicians. She's in charge of making sure that every doctor's office in Eastern Washington is using the system.

The next project for KL Crane Associates is an online wellness tracker that lets people (and the companies they work for) chart how the neglectful things they do to their bodies may affect their long-term health. "It isn't very sexy work," but she says, "it's important work." But really, what's sexier than wringing more, better, healthier years out of the only life we get? (LB)

JAMES SINGLETON, 25 - DJ, Producer

Last month, on the site of a Victorian-era meat cellar in the bowels of central London, James Singleton made 2,000 Brits dance. "It was a little silly," says Singleton, who uses the stage name James Pants, "a little like Studio 54." That gig was the third in a trek that began in Leeds and ended in Miami with stops in Dublin, Paris and, of course, London -- a European tour, basically, with Florida thrown in for good measure.

Pants was traveling with Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf, playing DJ sets in super clubs and at hip retailers, all in advance of his album Welcome, the first of three with the seminal underground hip-hop imprint. Though it won't come out until late May, Britain already seemed to know James was coming. "Some people knew my stuff better than I do," he says.

Rumor has it the album leaked last month; there was a considerable amount of radio play and magazine press, with one article declaring that Pants' "We're Through" is "likely to be a ubiquitous dance floor moment this summer." (The only thing more absurd than the hype of British press is the way people buy into it.) A few more choice clips like that, a few more spins on the Beeb, and Pants may be heading for a hell of a UK debut.

Three days after the show in London, James was in Paris to spin a few records at the boutique of Christophe Lemaire, the designer who made French clothier Lacoste (think polo shirts with alligator emblems) cool again. When Pants got to the store, he found Lemaire had made a T-shirt from an illustration Pants had made for a record called Rhythm Traxx. It was selling for $150.

Pants didn't know what to expect going into the tour, but it wasn't this. "Venues were putting us up. We were staying in these really, really nice hotels with rooms to ourselves," he says with a hint of disbelief. "I feel like I skipped a bunch of steps." (LB)

MICHAEL WOODRUFF, 18 - Birder, Musician

Michael Woodruff was home-schooled until high school and now attends Upper Columbia Academy in Spangle. You can tell. He's got that private school polish and, at only 18, he's already a Renaissance man. For instance, he's the concertmaster for the Spokane Youth Symphony. He's also a respected photographer, whose images have adorned interpretive signs on trails in Idaho and have been published in several books and magazines.

Bird books and magazines, that is.

That's right. While he's an admired musician and photographer, the hobby his friends and a small but dedicated local community know him for is bird-watching. In fact, having observed and chronicled nearly 1,000 species, Woodruff is among the top birders in the Spokane area.

It's a hobby he picked up from his father, and now it's a consuming passion. "Sometimes I go from midnight to midnight," he says, "racking up as many species as [I] can." He keeps a list of all the species he's seen in each county, each state. There are bonus points for finding a rarity. Recently, he says, "a red wing from Europe turned up in Olympia. So I drove over there to see it."

At lunch breaks, while his classmates eat at the school cafeteria, he's down at Philleo Lake, trying to add to his list. "It's a way I enjoy the outdoors, and at the same time it's kind of like a sport."

Asked what it is about birds, he replies, "You know, I've asked myself the same thing" and laughs. "It's just an intrigue. It's hard to explain."

After graduating from Upper Columbia this year, Woodruff plans to attend college and study medicine. (Joel Smith)

TRAVIS NICHOLS, 26 - Paddler, Activist

Travis Nichols says he can't resist the draw of a river. A kayaker and a tireless advocate and activist, it was the thrill of undiscovered territory that led him from Bellingham to Eastern Washington University; it was the river that drew him to civic life in Spokane. Nichols had been student body president at Eastern and a frequent trip-leader through the university's outdoor recreation program when he heard about plans for a whitewater park in the river below Peaceful Valley. He came to the first public meetings a concerned paddler but left an advocate. Now, he says with a blend of humility and surprise, "I think I just got voted to vice president" of Friends of the Falls, the nonprofit group pushing the park as part of its master plan for the river gorge.

"[Travis] is an incredibly thoughtful participant in public processes," says Barb Chamberlain, Friends of the Falls' current chair. He's also tireless. While representing FOF in city matters, Nichols has risen from a retail salesman at Mountain Gear to the guy in charge of buying all of the company's water sports and hiking equipment. Meanwhile, he's working with the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club to improve access to the river near Flora Road, organizing a series of amateur paddling competitions he calls "Hydrotherapy," promoting the city's bike-to-work week, and working with neighbors in Browne's Addition to formalize a trail that zigzags down the bluff to Hangman Creek.

"I don't consider myself unique at all," he says. "There's a lot of us out there doing our little piece of the puzzle, trying to put it all together."

Next week, Nichols is traveling to Guatemala with his fianc & eacute;. Beyond that, who knows? "I have no master plan for my life," says the familiar face at planning meetings. "I'm staying open to whatever opportunities present themselves." (JS)

ADAM HEGSTED, 28 - Chef

Adam Hegsted is no busboy, but he's not surprised when he comes out of the kitchen after dinner to talk with patrons and somebody asks him for a soda refill. It's not everyday you see a 28-year-old executive chef, especially at a fine dining restaurant like Brix in Coeur d'Alene. Yet Hegsted has already held that position at multiple restaurants. At the Space Needle, for instance. Or at developer Marshall Chesrown's residence. And now at Brix, at the Beacon (the homey pub under the same ownership next door) and, soon, at Le Piastre, the bistro that Hegsted plans to open this spring right across Coeur d'Alene's Sherman Avenue.

Food hasn't always been Hegsted's passion. His first engagement with the kitchen was through a vocational skills program at University High. "I discovered I really liked cooking -- creating dishes, the speed of the kitchen, the adrenaline of it ... That's what makes the job fun: the adrenaline rush. It's almost like a symphony -- it's like everything going on at the same time." After years at SCC, the Art Institute of Seattle and several restaurants, Hegsted is now in charge of the ordering and staffing at Brix. He creates menus from scratch, trying to focus his selections around local foods and build dishes around single ingredients. Those dishes have won him several regional and national awards.

"He has a knack for making these ideas work in a market that has a reputation for lacking ingenuity," says David Blaine, head chef at Latah Bistro.

Hegsted pays the price for that ingenuity, though. "When I make a new menu and need to try some flavors together, I'll sit in the kitchen and try to perfect it. Those are usually the days I can't sleep, and I sit and think how to make the dish better or how to cook it perfectly," he says. "My passion is my job." (JS)

GINGER EWING, 29 - Repatriator

There's a space in the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture called the Sacred Room. The public can't go in there; the staff can't go in there; former mayor and current MAC CEO Dennis Hession can't go in there. Three people in the world have access to it. One of them is Ginger Ewing, and she had to get permission.

Passed in 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act seeks to return to tribes some of the heritage that was stolen from them during archaeological digs on burial grounds. Working from a NAGPRA grant, it's Ewing's job to comb museum records, its collection, and the sacred room for anything that fits the guidelines (sacred objects, burial objects, human remains, items of cultural patrimony). It's a delicate process, as much about forensic detective work and wading through red tape as it is about maintaining close personal ties with tribal leaders. "So much of this is about trust," Ewing says, "and lost trust and gaining it back."

Recently Ewing made a discovery about a long-dead archaeologist who had left Spokane for the Chicago Field Museum. Turns out he had a propensity for taking things from dig sites for his own collection. "That's a really good lead," she says. You can tell Ewing loves the chase. She also, though, loves the communion with tribal leaders the work affords. "I feel like I should be paying them for their wisdom," she says.

The wrongs that began with the digging up of sacred sites didn't end with the passage of NAGPRA. "It continues to be such an injustice for [the tribes]." With so much governmental detachment on the one side and so much closely held pain on the other, Ewing wants to act as a buffer between the tribes and a stultifying, ambivalent process. She also, though, wants to relish the people and the work as long as it lasts. In her words, "It's fascinating, trying and beautiful." (LB)

HANNAH WHITMORE, 26 - Videographer

As a kid growing up near Yakima, Hannah Whitmore spent her free time in the woods: camping, hiking, playing make-believe with her seven siblings. "I was usually the instigator and planner in our many fort-building and exploring endeavors," she says. Now 26, Whitmore says that might be part of the reason she does what she does today: that is, helping kids explore their imaginations. As the media integration coordinator for Tincan, a nonprofit agency that focuses on effecting positive community change through technology and media, she helps teens produce their own video newscasts after school -- generating story ideas, taping in a studio, editing the newscast and posting it online (Emergenews.org). It's fun work, she says. "It doesn't matter how many times I've explained how to white balance a camera, or edit video, I still get a kick out of watching my teens have that 'aha' moment when they learn something new."

One of her projects was a documentary on teen pregnancy produced by eight teens (including Nora Taylor, daughter of Inlander staffer Kevin Taylor). "It was really eye-opening for all of us. [We] all had to confront a lot [of] our own and public stereotypes. It was really rewarding to me to see the personal growth and inspiration they all took from the project." The film won a National Student Television Award for Excellence for Documentary.

In March, she was asked to sit on a panel about using technology with at-risk students at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans.

Whitmore, who also researches grants, designs multimedia programs and teaches, is currently working with the kids on a series of short videos about all the weird little museums around the Inland Northwest. "It's gonna be really cool," she says, with almost child-like excitement. (JS)

KRISTINE REEVES, 27 - Political Party Boss

By day, Kristine Reeves is an immigration adviser for the Community Colleges of Spokane. But come 5 pm, she finds herself at the milk bottle-shaped Spokane County Democrats office as the youngest party chair in Washington state. It's a volunteer gig, in which she deals with everything from cleaning the bathroom to dealing with Congressional candidates, organizing Get Out the Vote events and speaking at press conferences. "While I'm not the party," she says, "I'm sometimes considered the face of the party."

Reeves had never worked with the party before a fellow member of the Spokane Regional Task Force on Human Relations recommended her for the gig. But in subsequent phone calls and interviews with party leadership, she was so impressive that, in January of last year, she was unanimously elected to the post.

It's not hard to see why. The Moses Lake native and WSU grad is possessed of seemingly boundless energy and can talk policy and process until she's blue in the face. Case in point: As a bystander at the Democratic caucus meeting at Roosevelt Elementary in January, she practically took the meeting over when the appointed leadership faltered. She laid out the ground rules, introduced Senator Lisa Brown and kept the process from descending into confusion and chaos.

Reeves credits her success to those who helped her long the way. "Anybody who says they've gotten where they are at my age on their own is selling you a crock of crap," she says with a laugh. "Nobody gets where they are at my age without help."

Eventually, she'd like to teach public policy. But when The Inlander observed how strange it seemed that she didn't appear to want to run for office herself, she replied, "I didn't say that."

Her face broke into a glowing smile. (JS)

MARIAH McKAY, 24 - Scientist, Activist

Mariah McKay has been back in Spokane less than a year and she already knows, has had coffee with and/or has plotted the next revolution with pretty much everybody in town. The 2006 Reed College graduate, who grew up in the Inland Northwest and attended Mead High School, "keeps popping up in public venues with interesting things to say," as City Councilman Richard Rush put it. In her 11 months here, McKay has doorbelled for Rush's campaign, taken part in the recent Peaceful Valley charrette, offered public testimony during the council's negotiations over a condo tower in that neighborhood, appeared on an Inlander panel about keeping young people in Spokane, sat in on the Downtown Spokane Partnership's rejiggering of the downtown plan and helped organize a youth center for the Unitarian Universalist church. Today she returns from a weeklong trip to St. Louis, where she represented the company she works for -- Matrical, a local biotech equipment company -- at a convention for the Society of Biomolecular Sciences.

McKay's newest passion, though, is Envision Spokane, a grassroots coalition aimed at re-envisioning democracy in Spokane and producing a bill of rights for the city's charter. She says the upstart organization consists of 16 local nonprofits, churches, neighborhood councils and labor unions, though she wouldn't divulge which, saying, "We don't want to be squished before we get off the ground."

It's the kind of work she was born to do she says. "I want to analyze the data and fill in the gaps of our understanding of the local young adult population ... reverse the brain drain." A ceaseless multi-tasker, McKay explains, "I was born with a lot of pent-up energy ... The last thing I want to do is slip into zombie mode." (JS)

JOHN T. REUTER, 24 - Publisher, Candidate

John T. Reuter has been a public servant since birth. That's an exaggeration, of course, but then John T. Reuter is prone to exaggeration, too. A bundle of energy with a mouth to match, Reuter has published the Sandpoint Reader, an alternative weekly paper, since December 2004 and is now a candidate for Bonner County Commissioner. The 24-year-old recalls that the only three nights he and his two brothers were allowed to stay up past 7 pm as kids were the nights of the Republican and Democratic conventions and election night.

"So yeah, I liked politics," he says. "I get to stay up late! Better than a bedtime story!"

But he says his transformative moment in public service was his three-week effort to memorialize and give honorary diplomas to four students who died in a car crash when Reuter was senior class president in high school. "My grades certainly fell that semester. You can't skip three weeks of school entirely," he says.

Nonetheless, he went on to study history at College of Idaho in Caldwell and spoke at graduation. There, he met Zach Hagadone and Chris DeCleur and birthed the idea of the Reader. The paper has since become required reading for local government officials, and Reuter has become its most important voice.

This season, he's jumping from the sidelines onto the court. The surprise twist? The alt-weekly publisher's playing for the other team.

"People come up to me and say, 'John, you're running as a Republican?!' Then I sit down and talk about my stances and they go, 'Hmm, maybe I'll become a Republican, too.'" We believe it. Reuter's fast-talking, locally minded reason is refreshingly bipartisan. "I divide people between two groups," he says. "People who care about the community and those who don't."

According to an estimate by the Idaho Association of Counties, if Reuter is elected in November, he would be the youngest county commissioner in the state. (JS)

RYAN OLSON, 24 - Gay Rights Activist

Before he protested "Don't ask, don't tell" by directing a sit-in at an Army recruiting office, and before he spoke out against homophobic slurs made by fans at Gonzaga basketball games -- garnering national headlines and an appearance on MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson -- Gonzaga senior Ryan Olson was called a "Future Gay Hero" by The Advocate, America's oldest GLBT news publication. The magazine praised his dogged fight for gay rights, his work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation and his turn as documentary subject in an mtvU show about Gonzaga students traveling to Olympia to demonstrate against Washington's Defense of Marriage Act.

Olson's heroes are civil rights leaders and men of God, mostly the people you'd expect: Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Desmond Tutu. A man of deep faith, Olson also -- amazingly -- draws inspiration from Gonzaga's conservative president, Robert Spitzer, despite considering him an impediment to the gay rights movement at Gonzaga.

"[Spitzer] always says, 'For this, I came,'" Olson explains. "[He says] every moment must be lived in servitude to what you dedicate your life to. Every moment of your life has meaning and possibility." Olson says he awakened to that meaning, those possibilities, when he began to love himself for who he was. "The more I came out," he says, "the more comfortable with myself I become, the closer to God I feel." And so, with God's help, he can love those who don't love him back.

There's no greater satisfaction, Olson takes Spitzer's words to mean, than dedicating yourself wholly to a calling. "Serving others for the rest of my life -- that's the only thing that'll give me that satisfaction," Olson says, "And so, for this I came." (LB)

BROOKE KUHL, 29 - Attorney

Brooke Kuhl admits that it's hard to be a real person anymore. The 29-year-old from Helena, Mont., is a promising associate partner in the Spokane office of K & amp;L Gates, one of the largest law firms in the world. Handling real property, intellectual property and commercial litigation cases, she has to be ready for anything. To do that, she has to know everything -- the ins and outs of case law in every foreseeable area. "I have a case right now, a damages case for a utility line through an orchard, so I'm learning about the trellis system for the apples, what kind of apples, what kind of pears, and the market for that. You become a mini-expert on a bunch of small areas of the law."

You also, she says, become a party pooper. "The difference between me before law school and now...," she says with an almost nostalgic sigh. "I talk to my family on the phone. My younger brother [in Montana] is a counselor, and they were saying he wanted to take his class up to the lake. And I said 'I don't know, that sounds like it could be a liability case.' You're immediately thinking of all the things that could go wrong."

Senior partner Mike Keyes says her sharpness pays off. "[She is] very well thought of" in the firm. A talented generalist, she's "very much in demand," he says, adding that despite the demand she still finds time for pro bono work, including working as a special advocate for the county's juvenile court.

Kuhl says she's always known she wants to be a judge. Her work with a county prosecutor in high school and her clerkship with the Montana Supreme Court have only confirmed this. She's not afraid of her inner attorney. "The important thing is to really love the law and be interested in hearing arguments, new cases, new things that are happening," she says. (JS)

BILL POWERS, 26, RHEA BEUMER, 23, PATRICK KENDRICK, 27 - Music Scene Pillars

So much in music is a matter of opinion. Whether a band's good or not. Whether a genre's worthwhile or not. Whether a venue is doing its part or not. When it comes to the impact on the local music scene made by Rhea Beumer, Patrick Kendrick and Bill Powers, though, you just gotta look at the numbers. Kendrick (above right) puts on three shows a week at the Caterina Winery, and another four or so a month at other venues. Powers does four shows a week on average, booking at the Blvd. Under Beumer's eye, Empyrean -- from the time it reopened in late December 2006 to its first anniversary last year -- put on 277 events, "not including open mics and poetry slams and crap." In rough numbers, that puts the trio's contribution to the scene at somewhere in the ballpark of 700 separate concerts last year. Almost two a day. Every day.

More than the sheer numbers, though, the way Beumer, Kendrick and Powers have come to work together has changed the scene. They have a group they call Promoters Anonymous, wherein, according to Powers, they meet, catch up, trade war stories and "talk jive about ... writers at certain publications." In developing those ties, passing shows between venues, they've woven relationships with other promoters in town into a friendly, ad hoc network of professionals and helped to create real amity in the scene.

Kendrick was mostly a lone gun when the first club he managed, Rock Coffee, folded two years ago. The closure was seen as a debilitating blow to the scene. He considered it a crushing personal blow. Two years later, his perspective, at least, has changed. "So many people stretched out to help me," he says. "Losing Rock Coffee was kind of a blessing in disguise," says Kendrick, "Now we know we can trust each other." Competitors, in a sense, have become allies. (LB)

MAYA ZELLER, 28 - Poet, Teacher

There's not a lot of money in poetry. Not unless you're really good. Maya Zeller, a 28-year-old poet from Spokane, recently won the Richard Peterson poetry prize -- good for $1,500 and publication in the Crab Orchard journal. She had previously been published in Ecotone, Poet Lore and the Cincinnati Review, among other journals. "It's highly unlikely I'll ever make a salary writing," she says. "I actually do make some money, but I'm lucky." To pay the bills, Zeller teaches writing to creative writing students at Spokane Community College and to fourth graders at Broadway Elementary (through Get Lit!'s Writers in Residence program).

On Fridays, though, she sets aside everything else and writes. (She's currently working on a book of poems.) Her husband is away coaching cross country at Eastern. She doesn't have any classes. She sits down in one of two rooms -- an office walled in by favorite books, or a small, brightly lit room on the second floor of her north-side house. She insists she's not creating high, impenetrable art there. Asked whether it's frustrating to work in a genre generally considered inaccessible, she practically bristles, leaning forward. "I think good poetry is accessible. I try to write the kind of poetry that my mother or sister could read and enjoy and understand," she says. "My students have that fear [of poetry]. They don't know that washing dishes is poetry. Giving birth is a poem."

A native of southwest Washington who graduated from Western in 2002 before enrolling at Eastern and working at Willow Springs and the EWU Press, she points to a recent story in Writers & amp; Poets magazine that called New York and Spokane "the two literary capitals of the nation" as proof that she's in the right place.

Still, "a lot of writers keep to themselves," she says. "If you want to be a writer, you kind of have to be private." (JS)

DeAngelo Casto, 18 - Athlete, Student

Ferris's boys basketball team never lost with DeAngelo Casto playing center. The 6-foot-8 Casto transferred from Freeman High to Ferris as a junior -- for academics as well as basketball, he says -- and the Saxons went 58-0 with him holding down the paint, garnering two state 4A titles and speculation that the Saxons might just be the best prep team the state has ever seen. That's a long way to come in 12 years.

DeAngelo Casto was 6 years old, the son of two drug addicts in the grimy hell that is East St. Louis, Mo., when two men jumped out of a car and shot his father to death right before his eyes.

Today, Casto tells the story matter-of-factly, without a trace of emotion. The same as when he describes his mother dying of a suspected drug overdose.

Adopted at 8 by a Freeman couple who raised 16 children, Casto is determined to overcome his horrific childhood so he can enjoy a terrific adulthood. "I'm not going to let it bring me down," said Casto, named Washington Class 4A Player of the Year after a remarkable senior season. "I'm going to overcome it."

A springy shot blocker with long arms, he averaged 14.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocked shots per game as a senior. Casto says he's leaning toward attending Washington State -- "They [WSU coaches] told me they want me" -- but Gonzaga and Washington are among other interested suitors, if he can qualify academically.

"My goal in life, even growing up, was to be successful," Casto says. "Looking at what God has given me, I can see where basketball can take me to a level where I can be successful, whether it be in college basketball or, beyond that, professional basketball."

Despite academic problems that Casto traces back to his rough upbringing, the personable youngster says he looks forward to the challenge of college classes.

"I want to better myself in every way," he says. (Howie Stalwick)

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