STATE COLLEGE — After nearly every game since freshman Ron Coleman became a regular fixture in Michigan’s starting lineup, the reactions to his performances have been ones of surprise.
It seems that few expected him to do much of anything this season. Michigan returned so many veteran players that there seemed to be little need to let a freshman spend so much time on the floor. But Coleman has proven the doubters wrong.
His first start came in Michigan’s loss to Providence at the Preseason NIT Tournament on Nov. 26. But his performance did little to foreshadow what a crucial role the freshman would play for the Wolverines later in the season. It was, statistically speaking, fairly bland. Despite grabbing five rebounds, he went 1-for-11 from the field, including a 0-for-5 drought from 3-point land.
Since that day in New York, he has scored 125 points. And although his complete season points per game average is at 7.6, his average in the games that followed the tournament is considerably higher: 10.4. Junior Daniel Horton has averaged 11.8 points per game in that same period, while junior Chris Hunter leads the Wolverines with 13.9.
The primary difference between Coleman and these team leaders is that he remains one of the few Wolverines untouched by the unlucky string of injuries that temporarily halted their seasons.
This uninterrupted playing time — which may not have occurred if not for his teammates’ various ailments — has resulted in Coleman’s metamorphosis from the low man on the Michigan totem pole to a serious contributor in whom the team and coach Tommy Amaker have placed a great deal of trust.
The freshman’s breakout performance occurred on Dec. 4 at Crisler Arena, when Michigan beat Notre Dame in its first win over a ranked team this season. He shot 4-for-5 and went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Because he received the opportunity to step in for his under-the-weather teammates, his presence on the court has become more like that of an upperclassman than a kid who has not even completed an entire season playing the collegiate version of the game.
Coleman’s clutch performance at Penn State this weekend verifies that he has matured greatly since his early days when he had to sit on the bench just waiting for the time when Amaker would ask him to go in.
“I just listen to my teammates and my coaches,” Coleman said. “And they just say to go out there and play poised.”
So he did. And his four 3-pointers in the last few minutes of Saturday’s game gave the Wolverines the boost they needed to leave State College with their second road win in the Big Ten season, equaling last year’s total.
Apart from his accurate shooting, Coleman has also exhibited another trait indicating that he has grown as a leader — he is humble about his accomplishments.
“It felt good to knock down a shot like that,” Coleman said of one of his more critical 3-pointers. “But I had to just keep playing because the game wasn’t over yet. We just kept going, and the team finished the game on the free throw line.”
In just a few short months wearing the Maize and Blue, Coleman has become what most never really imagined — a regular starter on whom Michigan relies for consistent performances, even on the road, a place in which the Wolverines have historically struggled.
At this point in the season, the freshman still has not ceased to surprise people with his play. His performances have warranted higher expectations, but if he is able to maintain his poise throughout his tenure at Michigan, he will help his team grow up as much as he has this season.