A week ago, Rodney Williams had big words for freshman Joe Coleman.

“He’s always worrying about the dunks that he wants,” Williams said, grinning. “He had two chances out there, so you’ve got to put this in the paper so he sees that he needs to work on his legs so he can go out there and dunk it next time.”

Monday, Williams was asked how Coleman responded to the challenge.

“He still doesn’t have a dunk so he’s not responding too well right now,” Williams joked.

Coleman isn’t one of the Gophers’ primary players. He’s not a threat to enter the starting lineup anytime soon. But it’s clear his teammates – who playfully talk smack with Coleman – respect the young guard. And like coach Tubby Smith, they know he will get his chances. You don’t challenge a kid to dunk in a Division I basketball game unless you know he’s got the tools to make it special.

“Joe, you’ve seen what he can do in just a short amount of time,” Smith said. “He’s very explosive and very efficient.”

In fact, he was the Gophers most efficient player overall on Saturday, according to Smith’s stats. That just means that in Coleman’s 12 minutes, he did the most. He got to the line eight times, making six of his free throws. He scored nine points overall. He had two assists, two rebounds and a couple of deflections, according to Smith.

It was Coleman’s second consecutive high-impact game after he scored 10 points against Appalachian State.
The Hopkins grad is proving to the team that he can be effective in the minutes he gets – no matter how few – because he’s starting to look more comfortable when thrown into spot situations. He’s still not perfect: he hasn’t mastered Smith’s system, he occasionally still looks lost away from the ball and he will sometimes make bad passes or take chances that don’t pay off. Still, he hasn’t had a single turnover in the last two games – the only Gopher who's played at least 10 minutes a game to avoid doing so.

“I think those things – grasping the offense – those are things he just needs to improve on, and defense,” Smith said. “Most freshmen, they take chances, they’ll take a gamble here and there and it will lead to problems, so he’s still go to work on that.

“Joe is really coming along and playing well, that’s why you’re going to see him continue to get many opportunities.”

And who knows, maybe those include some dunks.

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