Feature: "Gopher Bloodlines"

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Joe and Dan Coleman used to play pick-up games with their cousin and their uncle Ben. Joe was the youngest and smallest, and his team usually lost. He has come a long way since then. Joe used to have a hard time holding his own on the driveway with Ben and Dan, but now he is competing in the same Williams Arena where his uncle and brother played before him.
Go Gophers! Joe Coleman
Go Gophers!
Joe is the third Coleman to play for the Gophers.
Go Gophers!

The Golden Gophers' freshman guard enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 2011, but his family's history with the team stretches back much farther than that. Before Joe Coleman was born, his uncle Ben earned two varsity letters (1980 and '81) for the Gophers before transferring to Maryland and later playing in the NBA. More recently, Dan ended his college career with 1,317 total points and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors as a fifth-year senior in 2008.

Joe, Dan's junior by about eight and a half years, spent a lot of time around Gopher basketball during his teen and pre-teen years. Dan sat out his true freshman year after transferring from Boston College following summer classes. He could not travel with the team that season, so Joe sometimes came over to watch the games and spend the night at his brother's place. Joe often tagged along with Dan to practices. He was a little brother not just to Dan, but to all the Gophers.

"Everybody on the team knew me," he said. "I was just that little rascal who was always in the gym."

Because of their age and size differences--at 6-9, Dan has about five inches on Joe--Dan served as more of a role model than a serious one-on-one opponent for Joe in his younger years. It was not until Joe's junior year at Hopkins High School that he was able to compete with his older brother. That season, Joe earned All-State and All-Tournament honors after averaging 24.7 points per game and helping the Royals to a state title.

It was now clear that he had the potential to follow in Ben and Dan's footsteps and play Division I basketball. Despite all the family's Gopher connections, Dan did not pressure Joe to accept head coach Tubby Smith's scholarship offer.

"He didn't try to convince me to go anywhere, actually," Joe said. "He just told me, 'Make the decision on what you want in life, not necessarily what others want. Try to stay focused on what your goals are, but also what you want to do after basketball. Just pick a school off of that.'"
Go Gophers! Dan Coleman
Go Gophers!
Dan Coleman graduated three years before his brother came to the U of M.
Go Gophers!

Coleman, of course, did end up picking the Gophers. He signed his National Letter of Intent during fall of his senior year. He capped off his high school career with another state championship and Minnesota's Mr. Basketball award, an award for which Ben and Dan were once finalists.

When Joe finally donned the maroon and gold, he and his brother swapped roles. This time it was Dan playing the part of spectator. The older Coleman plays professionally in Europe, but he was home in Minnesota during the Gophers' early season.

"It was nice to see him in the stands watching my games," Joe said. "It's unfortunate that I didn't really play that much, so he wasn't able to really see a 'real' game for me."

Unlike Dan, Joe saw limited minutes to begin his freshman season. Dan started 27 games and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2005. But Ben could relate more to Joe's transition from high school to college. Ben barely played as a Gopher freshman under Jim Dutcher before getting more opportunities as a sophomore. Joe said that while Ben does offer some pointers, he and his uncle had not spoken much about his playing time situation. But Joe did recall the advice Ben gave him in high school.

"He just told me, 'Just keep fighting through. Just be as efficient as you can. Eventually, they're just going to have to put you on the court,'" Joe said.

Joe has earned more playing time over the season. He scored 14 points against Purdue in his first career start, drained some crucial free throws in the win at Indiana, and piled up a career-high 23 points at Penn State. His ability to find seams in the defense was paying off. By that time, Dan was back overseas. He still made sure to check in with his little brother.

"He just said, 'Good game. That's what you're supposed to do,'" Joe said. "He's just happy for me that I was able to get the opportunity to show that I am able to do those things."

Joe recently went through a four-game scoreless streak. Still, he led the team in rebounds in two of those games, and he snapped out of the scoring slump with a 12-point performance at Northwestern. It is all part of the ups and downs of being a freshman in the Big Ten.
Go Gophers! Ben Coleman
Go Gophers!
Ben Coleman played for the Gophers in 1980 and '81.
Go Gophers!

Joe may not catch up to Dan's freshman year numbers, but Dan played under different circumstances--he had the advantage of a redshirt season, and the team needed him to have an immediate impact after the graduation/departure of several starting forwards. Joe is also a different style of player than Dan.

Joe believes he can write his own unique chapter in the Coleman history book if he eventually helps his team to be more successful than Ben and Dan's Gopher teams were. Even while he distinguishes his own game from his relatives' games, Joe Coleman knows that he can count on Ben and Dan for support, and he knows that the three will always be linked in Minnesota basketball history.

"It's a good experience," he said. "Not too many families can say they've had three different generations play at the same school. It's nice to know that. Hopefully it's looked on for years to come."

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