Coleman turning up the volume as Gophers’ leader

Minnesota will rely on the Boston College transfer to carry the bulk of its offense.

Bob Wothe

Minnesota men’s basketball redshirt freshman Dan Coleman doesn’t say much – it’s just not his style.

But don’t think the 6-foot-9-inch, 220-pound forward doesn’t care just because he’s more reserved than most.

“Dan is very conscientious out there, and he comes off as quiet because he’s so focused on doing the right thing,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “But, that said, we are trying to get him a little more verbally involved.”

That kind of leadership has never been Coleman’s forte. But with Monson calling him the “cornerstone” of the Gophers’ rebuilding process, Coleman said he realizes he might have to take a leadership role on an inexperienced team with nine freshmen.

“It’s usually not my thing to be a vocal leader,” Coleman said. “But I’m trying to be as much as possible.”

Perhaps Coleman has never been a true vocal leader because he has never been the focus of a team before – he’s always played second fiddle to last season’s Gophers freshman sensation, Kris Humphries.

In fact, Humphries and Coleman go way back.

The two both played for Hopkins High School in Hopkins, Minn., on a team that was one of the state’s top three in both their junior and senior years and won a state title in 2002.

And while Humphries won Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award when they were seniors, Coleman was a finalist for the honor.

From there, the two-time all-state selection put some distance between himself and Humphries, heading east to begin his collegiate career at Boston College.

But, after taking summer classes in Boston, Coleman decided to return to Minnesota.

“It was just a family thing,” Coleman said. “I wanted to be back closer to home, that’s all.”

The move was somewhat familiar to Humphries’ path to Minnesota. Humphries became infamous in some circles for committing to Duke but then changing his mind in favor of Minnesota.

Though the two took parallel paths to get to that point, they’re in very different spots now.

Humphries was allowed to play last year and had a monster freshman season for the Gophers, leading the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding and eventually being drafted by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Coleman – who was Humphries’ roommate after both came back to Minnesota – was forced to sit on the sidelines because of NCAA transfer rules as the team stumbled to a 12-18 record.

“It was good and bad to be out last year,” Coleman said. “I picked up some experience, but that’s a long time to not play in front of a ref.”

Now, the Gophers are debatably in a worse spot than they were last year because they are without the top six players from that 12-18 team for a variety of reasons.

Minnesota will likely start three career role players: Brent Lawson, Aaron Robinson and Jeff Hagen. It will probably also start Coleman and junior college transfer Vincent Grier.

To say the least, Coleman is under a lot of pressure. He’ll be counted on to produce with an offensive skill that averaged 15 points per game alongside Humphries in high school. Coleman scored 7.6 points per game on the Big Ten All-Star team that traveled to France and Italy over the summer and posted 15 in his collegiate debut against St. Thomas on Saturday.

Unlike most 6-foot-9-inch forwards, Coleman’s physique and inside-outside style of play are similar to Rick Rickert’s – the Big Ten freshman of the year for the Gophers three seasons ago.

Coleman demonstrated that versatility against St. Thomas on Saturday.

But Lawson said he’d still like to see more enthusiasm out of Coleman.

“There’s no question that he plays with fire, but we’d like to see him show it a little more,” Lawson said. “So we’re trying to get on him to be more vocal – especially defensively.”

And Monson said that’s all the team can ask of Coleman.

“It’s just not Dan’s personality to be real vocal,” Monson said. “But he works hard, and, like a lot of freshmen, he’s just trying to figure out the fine line out there.”