By Gary Lambrecht
Senior Navy Leader Jennifer Colman looks back at his four years at the Naval Academy by measuring the good days and bad days and what they all mean on the whole.
Ultimately, with three months to go until graduation day, Coleman is deeply happy to have held on in the Navy, especially after the toughest times led her to seriously consider getting out of school early. Annapolis.
“In general, we go through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity at this school,” Coleman says, recalling the days two years ago when she was about to walk away free, instead of signing. a “two for seven” to graduate, be commissioned as a naval officer, and serve in the US Navy for at least five years.
“Here you learn to adapt, to be resilient and to overcome,” adds Coleman. “You learn what leadership is. You fail and fail again and you keep bringing it on. When I think of the young woman who had never left her home in over a week and who presented in Rhode Island [in 2017 at the Naval Academy prep school]I seem like a totally different person now.”
Coleman, who was a starter for four years, captain for three years and a two-time first-team Class 5A guard at Highland Springs High School in Richmond, Va., rewrote the Navy record books in a single season. under second-year head coach Tim Taylor in 2021-22.
Throughout a year in which it has led or nearly led the Patriot League in a list of statistical categories – and continues to rank near the top of Division I in scoring (eighth), defensive rebounds (third ) and double-doubles (tied for 4th with 19) – Coleman played at the Conference Player of the Year level.
Scoring a league-leading 22.4 points and grabbing a league-second-best 10.8 rebounds per game, Coleman is averaging a double-double. She also leads the conference in minutes, field goals, free throws, steals and assists.
“[Coleman] is determined to be really, really good. I think of his contagious smile, his competitive spirit and his formidable heart. She really cares about her teammates, about other people,” says Taylor, whose staff helped Coleman correct a low-clearance flaw in his shooting technique. The solution fueled his offensive weaponry.
“She got better by putting in so much time in the offseason when nobody was watching,” adds Taylor, who employs Coleman in a variety of ways. “We try to give her space and move her around. She’s a real playmaker who brings the ball in and finds open shooters. But we post her, get her to open ball screens, run set plays to allow her to shoot a three. She follows the ball [as a rebounder] extremely well and can guard anyone we ask of him at 5-9. She’s just a ballerina.”
In Wednesday’s 56-42 loss to Loyola, which left the contenders 7-19 overall and 4-12 in the league, Coleman was her typical, versatile, playmaking self. She used mid jumpers range and explosive drives to score much of her game-high 22 points, marking the 20th time she has scored 20 or more this season. She added seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“I never want to lose. I’m clearly upset with every single one of them,” said Coleman, who would end his college career with one of the best individual seasons in program history.
“But I also look at the fact that we’ve been there (close to winning) so many times. It helps me keep faith that we still have a chance when we get to the (league) tournament,” adds- she. “I keep encouraging my teammates. I think that [struggle] really helped me become a better leader. When things don’t go your way, you always have to keep going. »
Throughout her time at The Brigade, Coleman says she was strengthened by the bond she forged with her classmates, starting with the bonds of brotherhood with her teammates. She was groomed by adversity.
Ciera Hertelendy, a leading attacker and Navy captain, says Coleman’s energy is impossible to miss. She is a loud presence, barking encouragement, demanding the ball, demanding more of herself and her teammates, cracking jokes, being a “character on the pitch”.
“We leaned on each other at NAPS, whether it was school, basketball or military life. We’ve become best friends over the years,” Hertelendy said. “Everyone wonders at some point what I got myself into here?”
Coleman’s battles included 42 losses in his first two seasons, before Taylor replaced Stefanie Pemper. They included the Covid-19 pandemic which effectively ruined Navy plans a year ago when protocols and lockdowns ruled the Yard and the Mids were limited to a 12-game season.
With Coleman averaging a double-double in nine games, Navy has rebounded from an 0-5 start to win five of its last seven games. The Mids went 5-3 to finish fourth in the league and felt good about their chances in the conference tournament. But a positive Covid test brought the Navy’s year to an abrupt end.
Coleman says her growth as a contender is defined in large part by a pivotal decision she faced at the end of a torturous sophomore year – a year after starting all 29 games and leading all freshmen Patriot League year in scoring, rebounds and assists.
First, Coleman suffered a concussion after colliding with a Mount St. Mary’s player during a preseason scrimmage in October 2019. Two months later, she was ruled academically ineligible. She would only play 15 games as a result.
Coleman missed nearly half of the Navy season while regaining his academic standing. In addition to his regular 18-credit course load, Coleman, who will earn a degree in cyber operations, had to retake a cyber class. She was cleared to play in February 2020.
By then, Navy was heading for a 7-23 finish. Although Coleman was thrilled to play again and hadn’t lost her desire to enjoy a free education at an elite school and serve her country, she still agonized over her basketball future that spring. She says she is grateful for the support of her family and the guidance she received from her parents, Elsie and James.
“It was a very, very difficult year for me. It hurts to see [Jennifer] injured,” says Elsie Coleman, who says the family floated the idea of Jennifer transferring to a good civilian school with a strong basketball program. Coleman had committed to the Navy at the start of her second year at Highland Springs, before turning down offers from VCU, Norfolk State and George Mason.
“[Jennifer] could easily have gone elsewhere and had an easier route; got a fifth grade. Her numbers would have been crazy,” says Elsie Coleman. “But she picked herself up and got back on track. [at Navy]. She persevered.”
“It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. My family reminded me of what I wanted from this place,” says Coleman, who says hiring Taylor locked in his decision to stay and to finish what she had started at the academy. “And hearing Coach Taylor, in our first one-on-one conversation, tell me he wanted to win now and ‘I believe in you’ was really all I needed to hear.”
It didn’t hurt that Taylor chose to keep the assistant coach Jimmy Colloton a board. Colloton had helped recruit Coleman, after former Navy aide and future Longwood head coach Rebecca Tillett discovered Coleman in ninth grade at a college park basketball camp.
Colloton had witnessed what Coleman had to offer the program early in its freshman year. He knew she was a gym rat growing up in Richmond, had played on boys’ teams at the recreational level, was an AAU veteran, and was addicted to pick-up games at the local YMCA at home — and is. always when she visits her family.
“Our backcourt had graduated in 2018, and we put the ball in [Coleman’s] hands and said, ‘There you go, kid. You are going to be the one to score for us. It’s a tough role to take on as a freshman,” Colloton said.
“Of course you could see his talent – the athletic ability, the ability to go to the basket, the passion, the vision, the knowledge of the game. It was all there from the jump,” he adds. “His rebound at this level is something that surprised me.”
Colloton also praised Coleman for his recommitment to his conditioning – very important at the academy, where sleep deprivation is part of the culture. In addition to refining his training regimen, Coleman adopted a vegetarian diet last year, with good results. She also produced a 3.2 GPA last fall.
“The game always knows who worked and who didn’t,” says Colloton. “I’m proud of what [Coleman] has done and what it becomes.”
Under normal circumstances, Coleman would likely have joined the Navy’s 1,000-point club at least a year ago. But it took him until the middle of his senior season, in just his 67th game — tied for fifth most in Navy school history — to reach the milestone. It happened on January 8, in a loss to Lafayette.
Under foreseen circumstances, Coleman would have teamed up with a classmate and a proven scorer kolby green this season in the backcourt. But after five games into the season, Green left the team to focus on urgent non-basketball duties. It was a reminder that service academy athletes are not bound by athletic scholarships.
“Here, we play because we love the game. You know that at any time, you can leave [the team]”, says Coleman. “Yet, [the news] hit me like a Mack truck. Kolbi is my guy, but she had to do what was best for her. I support her.”
Franklin Harris coached the Highland Springs team for 15 years. He saw Coleman score 1,716 points over four years and lead his team to three state finals with a fiery, competitive streak and a dominant presence at point guard.
When Coleman told Harris that she joined the Navy as a sophomore, he wondered if the life of the Naval Academy would agree with Coleman. Then he watched from afar as Coleman carried out another difficult task with that familiar determination.
“Jennifer is strong-willed, opinionated,” Harris said. “When she makes up her mind, she’s not going to waver. She knows what she wants. She’s going to get it.”
“Anyone who goes here has to find that balance. For me, it was about balancing school, military and basketball,” Coleman said. “Summer Plebe is such a pressured environment. People break you down, just to rebuild you. I could have taken a lot of lessons with me after just two years.”
“Sometimes I wondered why is this happening? Why am I going through this? I hate this. Looking at everything that has happened, I feel at peace. I look to the future. very good shape.”