Will Coleman didn’t have to come to the University of Memphis. In the spring of 2009, Coleman had a ready-made excuse for finding another program to help sculpt his late-developing skills on the hardwood. Having been originally recruited (out of Miami Dade College) by John Calipari, Coleman would have raised few eyebrows had he chosen to forsake a Tiger career when Calipari left to coach at Kentucky. Instead, he met Calipari’s successor and chose to honor his commitment.
The son of a military man, Coleman is familiar with commitment. Look at the oversized Tiger logo now tattooed on Coleman’s left biceps, and you get a sense of the commitment he’s made over his two years playing for Josh Pastner and the rabid Tiger fan base. When he’s the lone Tiger marching to center court for a Senior Day salute Saturday afternoon at FedExForum, Coleman will have his shoulders high, chin up, and likely a broad smile on his face.
“I have faith in my guys; we’re gonna be okay.” I’ve heard this quote from Coleman a dozen times over the last two seasons. An agreeable, unusually enthusiastic postgame interview, Coleman likes to talk about his “guys,” and how his faith is unwavering, however much doubt may be growing among media types and the Twitterati. As menacing as he can appear when slamming a lob home for a thunderous dunk, Coleman’s personality is engaging and what I’d call passionately sensitive. He’s an easy player to like.
On the floor, Coleman’s development hasn’t been what Pastner envisioned before the 2010-11 season opened. In terms of average, Coleman’s minutes, rebounds, and blocks are all down from his junior season. He endured a three-game stretch in February when he played a total of 27 minutes. (Coleman was on the floor for only four minutes in the February 19th loss to Rice, a team that was relatively undersized.) Consistency has been elusive for Coleman: 19 points and 11 rebounds in a victory over Marshall, then 2 points and 2 rebounds in a road loss to the same team.
The emergence of freshman center Tarik Black has impacted Coleman’s numbers and playing time, so there’s some irony to the two big men being named co-captain by Pastner at midseason. The shared leadership is a point of pride for Coleman, and the Tigers have enjoyed stretches of dominance — if rare — with both big men on the floor.
“I feel like me and Black, we have a relationship amongst bigs that no one else has,” said Coleman after the Marshall win on January 15th. “I love him to death. We work together, we hang out together, we’re in the gym together.”
Years from now, when I think of Will Coleman, I’ll think of the transition Tiger basketball has made from an era — under Calipari — of over-the-top dominance to one of scratching, clawing, biting for the respect and national admiration many Memphis fans had come to take for granted. For a young man playing merely his sixth season of organized basketball, Will Coleman has been dynamic at times and adrift at others. He’s helped win many games, and contributed to a few losses. In other words, he symbolizes his two seasons as a Memphis Tiger every bit as much as that tattoo on his left arm.