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Henry Coleman Zoom Time

Duke’s freshman forward talks about his role and his team

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: JULY 19 adidas Gauntlet Finale
 LADERA RANCH, CA - JULY 19: Team Loaded forward Henry Coleman shoots a free throw during the adidas Gauntlet Finale on July 19, 2018 at the Ladera Sports Center in Ladera Ranch, CA.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Commonwealth of Virginia has been very good to Mike Krzyzewski and Duke basketball. Look up into the Cameron rafters and you’ll see the retired jerseys of Grant Hill and J.J. Redick. Hill came to Duke from Virginia’s D.C. suburbs, Redick from Virginia’s mountain regions. Tommy Amaker and Billy King were national defensive players of the year. Crawford Palmer contributed to Duke’s 1991 NCAA title team, Andre Dawkins to Duke’s 2010 title team. William Avery, Nolan Smith and Quinn Cook all prepped at Virginia’s fabled Oak Hill Academy, although none are from Virginia.

But Krzyzewski has never had an influx of Virginians like this freshman class. Three of his newest players hail from the Old Dominion State. Combo guard Jeremy Roach is from Leesburg, about a half-hour away from D.C. Center Mark Williams is from Virginia Beach. Power forward Henry Coleman is from the Virginia’s capital city, Richmond.

Not surprisingly, the trio’s paths crossed with some regularity prior to their arrival at Duke.

“Jeremy and I actually played a lot against each other a lot when we were younger,” Coleman said in Thursday’s media conference, “throughout the AAU process and throughout the camp process. But Mark and I actually played a good amount of AAU together on the same team, with Team Loaded. So we developed a lot of chemistry playing there. And we played against each other a good amount of times in high school when he was playing for Norfolk Academy and I was playing for Trinity Episcopal, so we developed a lot of chemistry.”

But they’ve had much different career arcs so far at Duke. Roach has either started or been the first guard off the bench in all of Duke’s games. He’s been inconsistent, as most freshmen are. But he’s averaging 28 minutes and almost 10 points per game.

Williams was the next to develop into a rotation player. The seven-footer has averaged 15 minutes per game over Duke’s last five games and has shown signs of becoming an elite rebounder and rim protector.

Coleman has had a different path to playing time. He’s a 6-7, 230-pound post player and he clearly knows his way around a weight room. But he’s still short for an ACC player fighting inside and hasn’t yet developed the perimeter skills to play outside.

But Coleman can break energy and toughness to a young Duke team that needs both. He played 13 valuable minutes against North Carolina, for example, giving Duke 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 13 minutes.

Coleman says he hasn’t taken a big-picture look at his freshman season, concentrating instead on “just kind of stay [ing] ready. A guy who can bring energy, a guy who’s going to be able to defend 1 through 5, a guy who’s going to be able to do a good amount of things. . . . cleaning up around the basket but also spreading the floor. . . . Just going out there every day and doing what the coaches tell me, just showing my game. I can see a little bit of progress, here and there, hit a shot here, get a layup there. But overall I haven’t taken a step back to look at it. Just dialed in and ready to play some games.”

Coleman averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds per game as a high-school senior but recognizes that he’s not ready for that level of production at the college level, not yet anyway.

“For most of my life I’ve had the ball in my hands 24/7. So, here I’m not going to have the ball in my hands 24/7. Just being able to play with a lot of guys . . . learning to play without the ball, being able to make contributions here and there.”

Coleman says his team his still doing the work necessary to turn around this season.

“We’ve been playing really, really hard. If we can cut out games coming down to one or two possessions, we’ll be more a more successful team. But guys are still staying in the gym, staying positive and we’re just ready to work each and every day.”

Coleman is a blue-collar, lunch-pail kind of player. He looks like a four-year player, a promising talent who will develop into a stat-sheet stuffer. But right now his job is to be ready when his number is called, ready to give Duke that invaluable shot of energy that hopefully will start turning those close losses into victories.