University City

Vance grad an asset to Presbyterian team

Team camaraderie is what lured Al'Lonzo Coleman to the Presbyterian College basketball program in 2007.

His religious faith is what kept him from transferring in 2009, when his dreams of reaching the NCAA tournament disappeared.

Days like Nov. 19 make Coleman, a Vance High graduate, believe his commitment to the small liberal arts college in Clinton, S.C., has been worthwhile.

That's the day the Blue Hose upset 20th-ranked Cincinnati, the first time in his college career that his team beat a Top 25 opponent.

Coleman, a redshirt senior and four-year starter, played a big part in the victory, setting up his teammate's game-winning shot and finishing the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Coleman, a 6-8, 255-pound forward, graduated in 2007 from Vance, where he developed into an all-conference player and team MVP under coach Will Robinson. His parents, Frederick and Patricia Coleman, still live in the University City area.

"When we went to visit (Presbyterian), it had a really nice feeling," Coleman said. "The team was very family-oriented. Everyone just got along together."

Presbyterian's basketball program was just beginning a four-year transition phase from the Division II level to Division I. It was joining the Big South Conference, which meant it would eventually be eligible to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Graduating in four years, though, would mean Coleman's recruiting class would not be around after the transition period. Therefore, the Blue Hose coaching staff had planned all along for those three players, including Josh Johnson and Pierre Miller, to redshirt one season. It occurred during their third year.

During that season, the coaches learned the college had not fulfilled certain NCAA requirements and thus would have a year added to its Division I probationary period. Coleman said coach Gregg Nibert offered to release the three juniors from their scholarships if they wanted to transfer to NCAA tournament-eligible programs.

Coleman said he and his friends decided within minutes to stay at Presbyterian.

"After we left the meeting, we went back to my room," said Coleman. "I told them this is a test of our faith; everything happens for a reason. I said we get to glorify God. It's the reason we play the game."

During his redshirt junior season, Coleman became the first Presbyterian player to score more than 1,000 career points since the school advanced to Division I. He started 17 games, then broke his left ankle and missed the rest of the season.

Throughout his three seasons, Presbyterian has played some of the top teams in the country, including North Carolina, Kansas State and Ohio State. The Blue Hose recorded notable back-to-back victories over Wake Forest and Auburn last season.

But none of those games came close to what Presbyterian accomplished on Nov. 19. The Blue Hose entered the game with Cincinnati with a 2-2 record and had lost to Duke by 41 points.

Presbyterian jumped to an early lead but trailed by 15 in the second half. The Blue Hose whittled the deficit away and trailed by one point in the final seconds.

Cincinnati missed a shot with 14 seconds remaining, and Coleman rebounded the ball. The Blue Hose pushed the ball up the floor and got it to junior guard Khalid Mutakabbir, who fired the game-winning three-pointer for a 56-54 victory.

About 15 of Coleman's family and friends attended Presbyterian's next game, a Nov. 21 loss at Davidson.

Presbyterian is ineligible to play in the Big South tournament for the right to earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid. But the Blue Hose would still be eligible for a berth in a minor tournament, such as the College Basketball Invitational or the Postseason Tournament.

Coleman's career highlights include being named a second-team all-conference selection as a sophomore and averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game this season.

Upon graduation next spring, he hopes for an NBA tryout, or at least an opportunity to play professionally overseas.