BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – As the Samford basketball team ran onto the court to warm-up for their Thursday night tilt against Florida A&M, Justin Coleman ambled behind in grey sweats. The former five star recruit took his spot at the end of the bench after player introductions and focused in on the action.
Although Coleman cannot play this year due to the NCAA rule requiring transfers to sit out a year, he’s into the game as much as anyone in uniform.
“For him early on it was, it was tough,” said Samford head coach Scott Padgett of Coleman sitting on the sidelines.
The antsy feeling eventually turned into an analytical one. During time-outs Coleman can be seen sharing information he’s gleaned from sidelines, whether it’s a more effective way to execute the pick-and-roll, or that a certain opponent is struggling on the defensive end.
“Hearing it from another teammate who saw something they can do some times is even better than hearing it from me,” Padgett explained.
After the final buzzer ended the Bulldogs’ 83-63 victory over the Rattlers, fans and recruits hung around the court idly waiting for the lights to dim letting them know it’s time to make their way home. It’s really more of the houselights being brought down for Justin Coleman. Once the Pete Hanna Center clears out, he and student manager Will Roden pull out an apparatus that feeds them passes and rebounds missed shots.
Their day is just beginning.
“Tonight I plan on making 2,000 shots.” That’s right, MAKE 2,000. Coleman said to get that number he’ll typically hoist around 2,700 shots. It’s part of a new plan he and Roden are attacking to make 65,000 shots from early December to the end of January.
“Just being in here by yourself man–it takes a lot off your mind,” Coleman explained in the middle of 5,000 empty seats. It’ll be nearly 4:00am before Coleman and Roden finish the nights work; giving them just enough time to grab breakfast before coming back around 7:00am to go at it again.
“It’s a rarity. I mean, there’s guys that do it but that’s not the norm,” said Padgett, a former NBA veteran. “When you say gym rat, he’s the ultimate.”
As Coleman and Roden fire shot after shot that rip the nylon net, it look almost too simple to be a sport. The two are clipping away at a 75-80% pace. Basketball wasn’t always a refuge for Coleman, the former Wenonah star and Alabama player.
“When I got to college man, I put a lot of work,” Coleman emphasized. Coleman spent two seasons at Alabama, the first under Anthony Grant and the latter under Avery Johnson. He announced his decision to transfer shortly after the Tide’s season ended in March. During his time in Tuscaloosa, Coleman started 16 games averaging 7.8 points and 3.3 assists per game. Still, something was missing.
“I’m a guy that always gets up at five in the morning to put the work in, I stay late after practice to put the work in; but I always questioned myself, ‘Why can’t I ever be happy playing? Why can I never be successful at the next level?'”
The answers to those question wouldn’t be found at the bottom of a net.
“Once I started putting God in my life and started doing the right things and having faith, I started growing,” he revealed. Coleman added that he reads his Bible every day now in addition to attending both Church of the Highlands and The Rock Church. “Once you put God in your life, you see a lot of things. What if basketball’s not meant for me? What if it’s meant for me to learn under two great coaches and come back and give to the youth?”
As the apparatus nestled under the basket continues to feed passes to Roden and Coleman it certainly seems as if basketball is meant for the Samford Bulldog. Despite the clinic being displayed under the faint lights above the court, Coleman’s biggest asset is his shrewdness with the basketball.
Padgett praised his future point guard’s ability to discern when to shoot and when to dish to an open teammate.
“He’s not just trying to make the right play for Justin Coleman; he’s trying to make the right play for Samford,” he said.
That’s emblematic of Coleman’s new outlook on life. He’s still striving for a professional career, but not for the same reasons he may have once pursued that dream.
“Where I come from, a lot of kids don’t make it out, and a lot of guys that do make it to the NBA never come back to Birmingham,” Coleman said. “If I make it, God’s will, I want to come back and give to the kids and show the kids what I went through and show them the experience [it takes] to make it to the next level.”