Former Minneapolis North basketball star Ben Coleman, who played for the Gophers from 1979 to ’81 and went on to a 12-year professional career, died Sunday. He was 57.
“Just got the sad news,” the North boys’ basketball Facebook page said. “… Rest in Peace Ben Coleman. Our sincere condolences and prayers go out to the Coleman family.”
Two of Coleman’s nephews, Joe and Dan Coleman, also played for the Gophers.
Ben Coleman had playing stints in the NBA and Europe. The Chicago Bulls drafted him in the second round (No. 37 overall) of the 1984 NBA draft. He played in 227 career NBA games, mostly with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets.
“One of Minnesota’s finest, you will be forever loved and missed,” Dan Coleman wrote on Facebook about his uncle.
The 6-9 Ben Coleman had his best season with the Gophers in 1980-81, averaging 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds off the bench on a Jim Dutcher-coached team that included Trent Tucker and Randy Breuer.
But he transferred to Maryland, where he was a two-time All-ACC selection, averaging more than 15 points and eight rebounds as a two-year starter to finish his college career in 1984, when the Terrapins went to the Sweet 16.
Coleman was the first basketball player from North to earn a Division I scholarship as well as the first to play in the NBA. He also was the first black player from the Minneapolis City Conference to play for the Gophers.
“I wanted to break the ice and make a statement for the community,” Coleman said. “But at the same time there was a lot of pressure on me.”
Looking back in 2004, in an interview with the Star Tribune, Coleman continued to relish his high school playing days.
“It was a big thrill just to step on the court at North,” Coleman said. “If you played for the Polars, you were on top of the world.”