U's Coleman puts team first -- to a fault

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2012 - 11:13 PM

The Gophers sophomore guard, whose scoring average has more than doubled, still needs to be more selfish at times.

When Joe Coleman came to the Gophers a year ago as a freshman, he knew it would be a different story, a different game.

Having two close relatives that have played for Minnesota -- his brother Dan and uncle Ben -- Coleman was well aware that performing at the college level would be more than a little different from his high school years -- when as one of the key players on a talented Hopkins team, the Minneapolis native dictated the offense and scored at will.

Since then, even at the start of his sophomore year at the U, the guard has at times gone out of his way to get other teammates included in plays.

Maybe it's time Coleman got just a little more selfish.

"I try to get my teammates involved a lot, and some of the passes that I make to try to get them their points is just forcing it," Coleman said. "There are probably times where I'm passing it in, where I should just have taken it in to score."

The discrepancy in that decision-making is one of the last pieces the guard needs to master to truly become a complete player at this level.

As it is, the improvements in Coleman's game from a year ago have been obvious. After making 20 starts a season ago, Coleman came into this season visibly stronger and more dynamic offensively.

Coleman is averaging 10.6 points per game -- nearly doubling his 5.8 average from last season -- while showcasing a much-improved jump shot and driving aggressively to the basket as a freshman.

Much of that progress is likely because of Coleman's well-known work ethic. Over the summer, he practiced with his brother Dan (now with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA D-League) and went to the weight room often with teammate Rodney Williams. During the season, Coleman often shoots before and after practice, his roommate and teammate Andre Hollins said.

"He works on the thing he needs to work on, and he's focused," Hollins said. "In practice, he comes in day in and day out, just ready to play. I don't think I've ever seen him play lazy."

The more Coleman plays, the more he soaks in how he needs to improve.

The two biggest areas there are his defense and his decisionmaking/passing. Away from the ball, Coleman has been solid -- cutting to the basket, battling inside and finishing. But with the ball in his hands, the 6-4 guard is prone to mistakes. In the past three games, Coleman has had only three turnovers, but before that he was averaging 3.6 per contest. His game on Tuesday was his best of the season; he committed no turnovers while scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds and getting four steals against South Dakota State.

But coach Tubby Smith knows Coleman is a work in progress. "We just need him to play under control," Smith said. "Because usually when he's moving with the ball and he's trying to make a play off the dribble is where he has trouble."

At the same time, his aggressiveness offensively has been one of the keys to the Gophers' balanced scoring. He's become a viable weapon, and with a little extra selfishness -- taking that shot when it's open -- he could continue to blossom.

"That's just part of feeling the game out," Coleman said. "Just slowing it down, see the court more -- see not only what's open for teammates but also what's open for me."

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