Creating open shots for teammates is Justin Coleman‘s main job with the Arizona Wildcats, and he sure treats it like one.
The senior point guard spends six to seven hours each day poring over film, searching for any and every way to sharpen his game and exploit opposing defenses.
“I might watch yesterday’s practice. I might watch the last two, three games the (other) team played or I might watch highlights of two, three games to try to put things together,” Coleman said. “I watch their defense and how they play zone.”
His rationale for all that studying is simple.
“The Pac-12 is about being prepared for the next team, so if I can prepare mentally, that’s 90 percent of the game,” he said.
How does Coleman find the time to do it? He has a lighter schedule than most student-athletes. The fifth-year senior has two classes on Mondays, then is free the rest of the week. That’s one of the perks of being a graduate student.
“I just read books, practice and watch film,” Coleman said. “That’s all I do.”
Free time doesn’t equate to down time, though. Coleman sticks to a daily routine that starts early and ends late. He wakes up at 8 a.m. to read a few chapters of the Bible, then eats breakfast as he begins sifting through video clips via the Hudl app on his phone.
“I might just sit there and watch an hour and a half of film,” he said.
Once Coleman has seen enough (for the time being, at least), he heads over to Richard Jefferson Gymnasium to hoist up shots, often arriving two hours before practice gets underway.
Once it concludes, another film session begins. Then another. Then another. Coleman tries to be in bed by 10 p.m., but his studies often interfere with his sleep.
“After practice at dinner I might watch (film), then I watch it before I go to bed, before I read a book, so I just try to find different ways and different times to watch film,” he said.
That could mean digesting the footage by himself in his apartment or the locker room. Other times it could mean being accompanied by a teammate. That’s when Coach Coleman appears.
“He always rewinds it,” joked freshman guard Brandon Williams. “It’s kind of like Coach (Sean) Miller.”
Williams is Coleman’s main understudy. Coleman endearingly refers to the freshman as his “rook,” while Williams calls Coleman his “old head.”
The duo leads Arizona in assists, with Williams averaging 3.6 per game and Coleman tallying 3.4. Working with the upperclassman has taught Williams how valuable film study can be.
“Slowly and slowly I’m starting to get into that film stage,” Williams said. “As a rookie, I don’t really watch too much film. Now I do. ... That’s important for me individually to take that next step in my growth and development.”
Williams said Coleman, being the seasoned veteran that he is, points out the small, but important, details about the game that a casual observer might overlook.
“I might see a clip that might help us on ball screen defense and I might send it to Ira Lee and say, ‘Hey Ira, if you do this thing right here that will help us.’ Or ‘this guy might shoot 20 percent from the 3-point line so you can short close out instead of long close out,’” Coleman said. “The small details help a lot in games.”
Coleman’s leadership qualities were apparent from the day he transferred in from Samford. His teammates voted him to be a captain only a few months after he arrived in Tucson.
“I look at him as a mentor, a guy who can just not lead me on the court, but also lead me off the court, make sure I’m doing the right things, making sure I’m staying healthy,” Williams said.
Coleman likes to take the lessons he learns from his reading — whether it be a passage from the Bible or the book The Daniel Dilemma — and pass them on to his younger teammates.
Fittingly, Miller said Coleman has been a “godsend” to the Wildcats.
“He really has,” the UA coach said. “His attitude is outstanding. He’s one of the highest character guys we’ve had and loves the game. He really cares about his performance, but listens, learns and I was telling him the other day that he’s kind of like a freshman that’s no longer a freshman because he’s played so many games.
“I know that’s crazy because he’s older, but this is his first time he’s ever played for Arizona. And now that he’s played through the Pac-12 a couple games, and he’s been with us through so many practices, he has a good feel for what we expect and what we expect from him. But he’s really a great kid and he’s a very good player. So far he’s had an outstanding season and I think the best is yet to come from him.”
As far as what Coleman will do when his playing career ends, Williams says he has all the tools to be a successful coach one day.
“Most of the time I walk into his apartment and I would think he’d be watching the (Manny) Pacquiao fight, but instead he’s watching USC against TCU or something like that,” Williams laughed. “That’s why I know he’s an old head.”