This is the second in an occasional series catching up with former Gophers players.
Dan Coleman is far away from home, but still pays close attention to the Gophers – after all, his brother, freshman Joe Coleman is the latest to join the Coleman legacy at Minnesota (his uncle, Ben Coleman also played there). I caught up with Dan Coleman – who now plays in France -- over Skype about what he’s been up to since graduating and what he thinks about his little bro and this year’s squad.
AR: I know you just started with a new team (recently). Could you fill us in on how the free agent/trading process works over there? Is it similar to what we’re familiar with in the NBA?
DC: It’s completely different than the NBA. The open market is during the summer. And in Europe, unless you’re from that country, you usually only sign one or two year deals. Every one or two years, you’ll mostly likely be somewhere else. This will be my fourth year. My rookie year I played in Portugal and the last three years in France. (He’s on his third European team).
AR: Can you give us a rundown of what happened post graduation?
DC: I went to work out with the Timberwolves and then I played (in their) summer league team in (Las) Vegas (in 2008). I signed a deal in September in Portugal. We made the playoffs and I was the MVP over there – it was a big year. And after that, I signed a deal with JL Bourg, and I had a good season there, we made the playoffs and they re-signed me back and I was there last year.
AR: So you were initially without a deal this season?
DC: I kind of gambled a little bit with the NBA lockout. It was kind of messing up the deals for everybody. So I wasn’t really happy with all that top heavy action, as far as good players, it was pushing down my value. There’s 450 jobs in the NBA, suddenly everybody’s available. And then all the players that would have been in D-league -- well, the D-league lost its allure. I don’t know how many but I’m just going to throw out a number – 700, 800, 900 players – that would be occupied in the United States … they’re just not. So I waited it out and then as soon as the lockout was done, an offer came up (with his current team, Vichy) and I took it.
AR: You were without a job for seven months. Were you panicking?
DC: It wasn’t a situation where there were no opportunities, it was more of a situation where I was turning things down. There’s no need to rush out here unless it’s just a great deal or a great situation.
AR: What if the lockout had continued for the entire NBA season?
DC: Well, what people don’t understand with playing professionally, there’s so many different leagues and they start at so many different times. There’s America, you can play in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Japan – all over. So it really depends more on your agent’s ability to put you in front of decision-makers. So if the NBA lockout would have continued, it would have been different. There are a lot of leagues where you can’t play – if you have certain experience they don’t want you. There are some that have height restrictions. So I still would have had a job. But I was just wanting to come back to Europe and not do the Asia thing or something different.
I had a lot of interest at the end of the season, but every week that the NBA lockout became more real, teams started to change their focus. So for a guy like me, I had strong interest, but if a team thinks he can get an NBA player for low six figures, which some guys came over for not that much. Everybody knows your body is like a perishable good, so everyone just wants to take the money. So it just changed everything. It was a different year. I had two offers, one in Hungary, one in Israel that I could have done, but I didn’t.
AR: What didn’t you like about those?
DC: You can go to new countries and certain countries have more or less a bad reputation as far as business and so on, so going to a country where you don’t know 100 percent whether you’ll get your money – that’s not worth it. I had an offer in Portugal, I had an offer in Hungary. I mean, I played in Portugal and there were, you know, late payments, it was not always on time. And then they spoke of Hungary being a possible country – it really has to do with the labor practices, because each country has different labor laws. And countries with the stronger labor laws have to have checks and balances. They can’t just tell you what you’re going to make and then not have it in the bank.
AR: Playing in Europe sounds like an even crazier lifestyle than playing in the NBA -- more movement, sketchier practices. Do you like it?
DC: Yeah, it’s good, it’s a nice career, it’s got a lot of perks. I mean, it’s way different than the NBA. It’s actually a lot more solitary than the NBA because you only play one game a week. People who play in the NBA and come over here a lot of times don’t like it, because it’s not the same lifestyle at all. There’s a lot more practice, too, you practice twice a day for one game. Some people get really bored or homesick, but if you do it for enough years, it just becomes second nature, almost. You don’t think about it as much.
AR: Let’s talk Joe. You’ve said he hung out with you a lot while you were at the ‘U,’ right?
DC: He was pretty present. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was with me all the time, but he definitely understands college basketball, that’s for sure. He made sure he was around in the summers, hanging around with the fellas, understanding the things he needs to do. I’d basically take him around –if there was something meaningful for basketball that I thought he could benefit from being a part of, he’d come along.
AR: You told me you talk to Joe everyday – in some form. How is he liking the DI experience so far?
DC: It’s a business. I think when we were talking about it in the beginning and when we were going through the process – it’s a business. I think he understands that. I’m sure everybody wants to play a whole bunch but he’s got some older guys in front of him and he knew that going into it, it’s not like he didn’t go into it with open eyes, but at the end of the day, it’s a business and I try to tell Joe that every day. Coach Smith isn’t trying to make everyone happy, he’s trying to win games.
And he kind of got caught in a tough spot because his minutes were down and they started playing well. And basketball is not a science. They’re not going to try to dissect it and fix it, it’s just things are rolling and they keep the momentum going and that happens.
AR: That’s got to be pretty frustrating for him – going from playing all the time and being the leader to now not playing that much. How much of an adjustment has it been to suddenly play spot minutes and not be able to get into a groove?
DC: I’m sure it’s an adjustment, but when you go up one level, everybody’s Mr. basketball, everybody had some sort of all-star game, everybody was good where they came from so it comes down to attention to detail – knowing and figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing and being on top of your plays and reads and a whole bunch of stuff.
From what I’ve seen, when he gets a little bit of time, he knows what to do with it. Just because of the lineups and the rotations and what Tubby’s trying to get out of the situation, he’s just been caught in the numbers game. They’re heavy at the guards and he’s not like Andre Hollins where they have a straight deficiency at the 1. So now he’s at the 2 and the 3 and there’s simply some older guys that have proven they can do some things on the main stage. And I think that’s what it comes down to.
AR: Was he nervous coming in?
DC: I’m sure. It’s impossible not to be, with so much build-up to playing in college. But Joe’s prepared. At the time where he’s able to exhibit what he needs to do – when he’s physically able to play, he has an understanding of what to do to get your desired result. He just turned 18 this summer. He’s still young. I’m sure he’s not ready to wait, but it’s a process. He had a good game the other night, so you’ve got to build on that and go from there.
AR: You played for Tubby Smith your last year at the ‘U.’ What do you think of him as a coach?
DC: I like his systems. I think he’s a good coach. I think his defensive system was probably one of the better ones that I’ve played in. He’s a tough coach, but he’s also a really respectful coach as far as just understanding. I always felt like he worked us hard, but he didn’t overwork us … The biggest memory I have of Smith is that he was always really receptive to how you felt, and gauging what needed to be done. Because I think his philosophy was people can’t give you what they don’t have. So if you don’t have legs, they can’t give you more energy. He was tough but he was respectful, and he was fair -- so people were really apt to give him all they have.