Before the season started, the various college basketball magazines ranked the 11 Big Ten recruiting classes, and they all placed Michigan last. The writers provided a one-line blurb about each class, and for Michigan, Street & Smith’s stated: “Ron Coleman … isn’t ready to replace Bernard Robinson.” Athlon declared: “Ron Coleman could be a good role player.”
After Saturday’s career-high 18 points against Fairfield, Coleman proved himself to be the next in a long line of freshmen who have been key contributors for the Wolverines.
While outsiders looking at Michigan’s projected starting lineup wouldn’t see room for Coleman to get serious playing time, anyone familiar with Michigan over the past few years has seen how freshmen have been the barometer for the team’s success. Since 2000, at least one freshman has started in four of the past five seasons. And in three of those seasons, a freshman has averaged more than 10 points per game: Bernard Robinson with 14.4 in 2001, Daniel Horton with 15.5 in 2003 and Dion Harris with 10.1 in 2004.
Coleman has yet to eclipse the 10-points-per-game mark on the season. But if he keeps playing as he has been of late, it won’t take long. He is averaging 6.9 points per game, but that number doesn’t reflect how much he has rapidly improved this season. Since starting his first game against Providence on Nov. 26, he has averaged 9.7 points per game and is averaging 13.8 in his last five.
“I think his confidence is at an all-time high right now,” coach Tommy Amaker said on Saturday. “I thought his play in the first half was outstanding.”
His first half was impressive: 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes. The freshman part of Coleman returned in the second half, when he went just 1-for-4 from the floor.
“Maybe (he was) a little too confident with some of the shots he was taking in the second half,” a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Amaker said. “But I was really pleased.”
Freshmen becoming instant contributors has been a common theme during Amaker’s time at Michigan, and it seems that potential recruits would love to play here. Amaker has shown that he loves to throw them right into the mix. Last year, Lester Abram gave his starting spot to Harris midway through the season, and it turned out to be the right move for that team. Two years ago, three freshmen — Horton, Abram and Graham Brown — paced the team to a third-place finish in the Big Ten.
Needless to say, Coleman has benefited from the numerous injuries this season, and his increased minutes have allowed him to shine. He has emerged from the MASH unit of players and now is emerging as a consistent threat on offense. With Horton back in the lineup, and Harris’s shots starting to fall from 3-point land, Michigan might have a formidable backcourt heading into the Big Ten season.
That is a feat in itself, as Coleman isn’t used to playing guard. In high school, he played forward and center, so he has had to learn a new position in the last few months. While there was an initial learning curve, it seems as if he has made the adjustment.
“I’ve had to transform into a guard,” Coleman said. “I had to play center in high school, but it’s been a good transition. I guard guys like Dion and Daniel in practice, so it’s helped me out a lot.”
The one thing that might put a damper on Coleman’s play is pushing him into a crucial role too quickly. There is a chance that freshmen hit the proverbial “wall” at a certain point, and, with so many players bouncing back and forth on the injured list this season, losing Coleman’s scoring touch because of too much pressure might prove to be costly.
Either way, he has managed to silence the “experts” from the magazines who believed he didn’t have a chance this season.
Brian Schick can be reached at email@example.com.