Still, the Syracuse center battles. For hours. Every single day. He sweats through T-shirts and pushes through practice. He celebrates his teammate's successes and never pouts.
For the nine games prior to Syracuse's Senior Day celebration, the former McDonald's All-American never left the bench. Yet he remains integral to the spirit of the Syracuse basketball team.
"He is," says Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon, "our rock."
Coleman now calls his career "a grind," using the word four times during a four-minute conversation.
It serves as a catch-all to sum up two major knee surgeries, two rehabilitation efforts and the mental and physical willpower needed to engage in an endless effort to regain long-lost abilities.
"This is what I do," Coleman said. "This is what I love to do. I didn't want to quit like that. I wanted to give it my all. Whatever I wanted to start, I wanted to finish. That was my main motivation."
When Coleman underwent his second knee surgery in 2014, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he was told Coleman likely would never play basketball again.
By that standard then, Coleman has grinded through 54 more games, one more Final Four and far more practice than he was ever supposed to.
"I think he could have been a good player but not on those knees," Boeheim said. "When it happened they told me he would not be able to come back and play. That was it. Period. No questions about it. I think he played through this just on sheer will and determination because when you see him now, he can't move in practice. He literally can't get up and down. It's sad to see. He's an unbelievable kid. He worked two years to be able to play at all."
For all that effort, the Jamesville-Dewitt product was showered with 6 minutes of affection on Saturday afternoon, an experience he says he'll never forget.
With 6 minutes remaining, the 30,448 fans in the Carrier Dome began chanting Coleman's name, imploring Boeheim to reward him one more time.
"We. Want. Coleman," they shouted between rhythmic claps. "We. Want. Coleman."
For nearly 3 minutes it continued, the volume dipping when a noteworthy basketball play was made, then resuming as the fans returned their appreciation to the hulking figure on the Syracuse bench.
The chanting concluded with a roar, first as Coleman stood and walked to the scorer's table and then again moments later when he shed his warm-ups and entered the game.
"It was nice to hear the chants," Coleman said. "Six minutes to go. I'll miss memories like that. The coaches. The fans. I'll miss it all."
Coleman is quiet in conversation, and his language fails to do justice to the challenges his injuries have created. He calls it tough and hard work. He labels it a grind and something he has to fight through.
"Anybody that goes through injuries is tough," Coleman said.
Not quite like Coleman.
"He's a soldier," Lydon says, repeating the word the same way Coleman does grind.
"He has the most heart on the team," Tyus Battle said.
Battle says Coleman has been a motivation during his freshman year, serving as a walking and talking reminder never to quit.
Coleman said he felt no torrent of emotion on Senior Day despite the fact that the celebration served as a sign that his five years at SU are coming to a close.
"I was still in game-mode," he said.
He played three minutes without recording a stat, ceding rebounds and a putback to fellow senior and walk-on Doyin Akintobi-Adeyeye. Afterward he talked about hoping to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Based on Boeheim's assessment, Coleman would likely be supporting his teammates along the way, potentially enjoying another moment or two of appreciation.
This wasn't how it was supposed to play out, back when Coleman was a high school phenom picking Syracuse over Kentucky, armed with a body that possessed all the potential in the world.
For Coleman, that didn't make it any less meaningful.
"I heard everybody cheering," Coleman said. "It felt good. It was special. It felt special to me."
|Dajuan Coleman holds up his plaque before Syracuse's game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Stephen D. Cannerelli | firstname.lastname@example.org)|
Syracuse basketball after statement win: 'Hopefully, that puts us in' NCAA tournament
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Tyler Lydon claimed he had no idea what Syracuse's chances were of receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
"I have no idea,'' Lydon said. "I haven't paid any attention to any of that.''
On the other side of Syracuse's locker room, however, Tyus Battle was very aware of where Syracuse stood and he knew exactly what the Orange's 90-61 rout of Georgia Tech meant.
Syracuse needed to make a statement and the Orange had made it loud and clear.
"It was definitely a statement win,'' Battle said.
Syracuse closed out the regular season with its most convincing win over an ACC opponent this season. The fact that it came over a Georgia Tech team that had beaten the Orange in Atlanta just two weeks ago and was also pursuing an NCAA bid made it even more important to Syracuse's NCAA hopes.
"We knew we needed it really bad,'' Battle said. "We're just trying to prove that we definitely should be in the tournament. We beat some really good teams this year. In the beginning of the year, we were a new team and it was the first time we were playing with each other. Over time, we started to know where guys make shots. Our team chemistry has improved over time.
"I think we're playing really good basketball right now.''
Syracuse improved to 18-13 overall and 10-8 in the ACC. The Orange will open play in the ACC tournament as the No. 8 seed. Syracuse will face Miami in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Syracuse entered Saturday's game against Georgia Tech perched precariously on the NCAA tournament bubble. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Syracuse seeded 10th as one of the last teams to receive a bye. However, Lunardi offered one of the more optimistic projections of those compiled on BracketMatrix.com, which put the consensus for Syracuse as an 11-seed.
Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com had Syracuse among his First Four teams left out of the NCAA field.
"We're still on the bubble?'' Syracuse guard John Gillon said after the win over Georgia Tech. "You never know. We're close to it. People say we're already in since we beat Duke. Some people say we needed to win this one. We won both of them. Hopefully, that puts us in. But we needed to win today.''
If a team ever needed to make a statement, Syracuse produced an exclamation point with its take-down of Georgia Tech. The 90 points were the most for Syracuse in a regulation game in an ACC game this season.
The game ended as a romp, but Syracuse had to work for it.
Orange jumped out to an early 16-4 lead. Georgia Tech closed the gap, but late in the second half Syracuse pushed out to a 38-22 advantage.
However, Georgia Tech scored 11 straight points, a run that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second.
Andrew White, who finished with a career-high 40 points, connected on 3-pointers on each of Syracuse's next two possessions to stem the Yellow Jackets' momentum.
When Georgia Tech attempted one more rally, closing to 49-44 with 12 minutes left in the game, Lydon drained a long 3-pointer to spark a 24-4 run.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who normally avoids talk of where his team stands in relation to the NCAA tournament, stated the Orange's case after the game.
"It's very hard to get 10 wins in this league,'' he said, "and not only that to beat top 10 teams. Whether they're rated there (now) or not, that's where they were. We beat three top 10 teams. Miami's moved up into the top 20. We've got six or seven wins against the top 25 or 50 teams.''
For the last month, the Syracuse Orange has seemingly played every game with its NCAA tournament hopes on the line. In that time, Syracuse has beaten Top 10 teams Florida State, Virginia and Duke. It's won at North Carolina State and Clemson. And, on Saturday, the Orange throttled a Georgia Tech team looking to push past Syracuse on the NCAA bubble.
"We knew this was one we had to win,'' Gillon said. "We know all these games are important. We're getting used to it. They're all important now.''