Freshman Justin Coleman focused on future

Freshman Justin Coleman focused on future

Justin Coleman has been filling in for an injured Ricky Tarrant for the last six games. CW | Pete Pajor

At 5 foot 10 inches and 160 pounds, the freshman point guard for Alabama might be the smallest player in the SEC. On his own team, the next biggest player is four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than the Birmingham native. That’s starting point guard Ricky Tarrant, who comes in at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds – a full three weight classes heavier than Coleman, and with a body type much more typical of an 
SEC backcourt.

But Tarrant has been on the bench for the end of the season, nursing an unidentified leg injury he picked up in Alabama’s narrow loss to Florida on Jan. 27. With Tarrant out, junior guard Retin Obasohan has gotten the majority of the minutes, while Coleman continues his development. It’s Tarrant’s and Obasohan’s team right now, but the future of Alabama basketball belongs to the freshman.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Justin,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “We feel like all of our guys, from day one when we started practice, we’ve had to deal with minor injuries all year long that’s kept guys out for periods of time so different guys have had to step into different roles and Justin is one of those guys. We feel like he’s more than capable of providing what we need if we’re short handed going into this next game.”

Statistically, the freshman has struggled, averaging 4.4 points and 1.4 assists per game this season, a stark drop-off for the former top recruit from the state of Alabama, who averaged 28 points per game his senior season in high school, but he said soon, all that will change.

“I’ve actually enjoyed it,” Coleman said. “It’s been pretty rough, stats-wise, offense-wise, but I’ve enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot from my teammates. I’m enjoying it. The seniors we’ve got, man, they make it a lot of fun, and with the players around, I’m really enjoying it. It’s all about the off-season, how hard you work in the off-season. That’ll separate everybody in college, because everybody in college can do the same thing or even a little bit better. I just know in the off-season I’ve got to work a little bit harder – or a lot harder – than I did last season.”

Coleman’s high school coach, Cedric Lane, attributes his struggles to the change in role for Alabama. At Wenonah High School, Coleman was the offense. At Alabama, he’s expected to initiate. Since he joined Grant’s squad, he said, he’s learned to be a true point guard.

“It’s different in high school, because in high school we don’t have a shot clock,” Coleman said. “College is a big adjustment to the shot clock and playing within a offense. It’s been a tough adjustment. Basically, it’s style of play and learning to play my position every day. As a freshman you learn something new everyday. That’s what I’m going through right now.”

Lane knows Coleman’s game. He’s been watching him for almost seven years now and won three consecutive state championships at Wenonah with Coleman from 2011 to 2013.

“Ever since I saw Justin play as a seventh grader, I knew he was good enough to start varsity,” Lane said. “It was because he worked so much on his game, he doesn’t have a weakness. He can shoot the ball anywhere on the floor, he can blow by anybody that tries to guard him because he has a quick first step. If you foul him, he’s gonna make the free throws, and if you foul him, he can make a three-point shot. He’s just unstoppable, man. He’s unstoppable when he’s put in a situation where he can just be free.”

His coaches and teammates said, Coleman is the definition of a gym rat. Lane said he would call him Sundays to get in workout sessions after church.

“I would always ask my dad, ‘How can I get better?’ every day,” Coleman said. “He would tell me certain things like jump rope, get extra shots in, do the things that other people don’t want to do. That’s when I built my work ethic. I really never based myself on being better than the people I was playing against. I was just trying to be a better Justin Coleman everyday than I 
was yesterday.”

Much of what the Alabama basketball team will look like in the future will come down to Coleman, who said fans can have simple expectations from the three-time state champion.

“To be the person I am, come in, run the team and win,” Coleman said. “That’s what I do most is win. That’s what everybody 
can expect.

“Just winning.”

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