PROVIDENCE, R.I. – There are some important things about this Providence team that are different from last season, not the least of which is the coaching staff. One noteworthy change is that a key player will be coming off the bench, and if their first two games are any indication, the early returns are positive with Gerard Coleman moving out of the starting lineup.
Coleman started 29 of the 31 games he played in last season and was third on the team in scoring. As he is the second-leading returning scorer, he wouldn’t seem like a candidate to come off the bench, especially since the Friars don’t exactly have great guard depth. That would improve if the NCAA eventually clears Kiwi Gardner, but he is still a freshman. But there’s a reason new head coach Ed Cooley is doing this, and he arrived at it just before the season opener, although Coleman didn’t start both exhibition games.
“We need somebody to come off the bench and give us some firepower, and we think he can really score,” Cooley said.
Coleman did just that, leading the Friars with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes in their season-opening 72-61 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. He led them in rebounding and had just one turnover, so it was all in all a good effort for the athletic sophomore. Saturday’s game wasn’t played at the fastest pace, which has often been a problem for him as he’s at his best when the game goes up and down but is often a different player when it’s a halfcourt game.
Two nights later, Coleman again played an integral role in the game, this time in a road win at Fairfield, Cooley’s former school. In 33 minutes, he scored 17 points to support the big game starters Vincent Council (26 points) and Bryce Cotton (24) had. The three guards combined to go 25-41 from the field.
The biggest adjustment for Coleman will be mental. Although it’s never easy from the standpoint of starters being perceived as the better players, it’s not likely that Coleman will have a problem as far as that goes. Character is not a concern with him, and he just wants to win. But the big difference will be the approach to the game.
A starter comes in knowing what he will want to do as part of the team’s game plan. A reserve, on the other hand, needs to study the game while on the bench to see how it is developing, and gets sent into the game often in response to what is happening on the floor. The reserve doesn’t know when the game starts what the game will be like when he takes the floor and will have no say in it since he has not been on the floor to that point. Adjustments have to be made by all players, but for a reserve it starts out that way.
Coleman understands the game enough to know that while he’s used to starting, he’s not being demoted. He’s simply being asked to play differently, and Cooley will demand that he defend better, something he’s very capable of doing. Coaches have come up with ways to de-emphasize starting, often mentioning finishing the game in addition to how many minutes someone plays or the scoring chances they get. Coleman may not need that to help with this.
“At the end of the game, whoever is in there, that’s pretty much who the coach trusts,” said the sophomore guard.
Coleman has started for a long time in the game of basketball, so there is an adjustment. Right now he appears to be doing well with it, and there’s little reason to think that will change. The Friars hope the bottom line doesn’t change in future games as well.