Coleman-Lands gains new view after injury

Coleman-Lands gains new view after injury

CHAMPAIGN — How important could a healthy Jalen Coleman-Lands be for the Illinois basketball team this season?

Well, if you think back to last year’s Illini team, one of the major weaknesses was shooting the ball, particularly from the perimeter, where it shot 35.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.

The Illini needed a good shooter and, according to coach John Groce, they’ve added that with Coleman-Lands.

“He is a ridiculous shooter,” Groce said of his freshman guard. “He’s about as good as any freshman shooter I’ve recruited as a freshman coming in. You think of Archie Miller at N.C. State or Darnell Archey when I was at Butler or Jon Diebler when I was at Ohio State. He’s in that breath as a shooter.”

That’s high praise for the 6-foot-3 freshman from Indianapolis, who is currently progressing back to basketball activities after missing the bulk of the offseason nursing a stress fracture in his leg.

The time away from the court wasn’t a part of the plan Coleman-Lands envisioned for himself when he arrived on the Illinois campus in June, prepared to work himself into becoming a major part of the playing rotation as a first-year player, but he made the most of a bad break.

“I found out more about myself, I’m finding out more about myself,” he said. “I feel like it’s helped me cherish the game more and be more appreciative of what I do have.”

There were rumblings during the 12 weeks that Coleman-Lands’ left leg was covered in a walking boot that he might not play at all this season as the injury wasn’t improving enough to warrant his return to the court.

But after an evaluation earlier this month, the boot came off and the work to get back on the court began.

“That was a great day. Personally, I felt like it was a day I can cherish for the rest of my life,” he said. “Basketball, you don’t really realize what it does for you and how much you love it until it’s taken away.”

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit coming out of Indiana power La Lumiere and was regarded as one of the top three shooters in the country in his class. He was a Jordan Brand All-American and is the highest-rated player Groce has recruited to Illinois. But his contributions to the program go beyond just his physical abilities.

“First of all, he’s mature beyond most freshmen because he lived away from home for two years,” Groce said, citing Coleman-Lands’ two-year stint at La Lumiere, a boarding school in Northwest Indiana. “He has leadership qualities you can’t teach. He’s a very good communicator. His work ethic is exceptional.”

So now, it’s all about working him back into basketball shape, with an eye on being ready for the start of the season Nov. 13. Though his long-term well-being won’t be sacrificed if Coleman-Lands is not ready for the opener against North Florida.

“We have a plan in place for him. If he’s ready to go — which we anticipate — well before we play our first game, awesome. If he’s not, am I gonna play a guy who’s hurt or injured? No,” Groce said. “I want him playing yesterday. I want (Leron) Black playing tomorrow. It just kind of is what it is with those guys.

“Do I think (Coleman-Lands is) on track to play clearly before or on the first home game date? No question.”


Youthful display

Illinois basketball beat writer Marcus Jackson offers up his top five Big Ten freshmen heading into the 2015-16 season:
Diamond Stone, Maryland    C    McDonald’s All-American could be league’s best big man
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue    F    Ex-MSU commit gives Boilers one of nation’s top frontcourts
Thomas Bryant, Indiana    C    Physical big man is piece Hoosiers have been missing
Deyonta Davis, Michigan St.    F    Athletic forward with jumper good fit for MSU system
Jalen Coleman-Lands, Illinois    G    Combo guard could find himself among UI’s top scorers