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Nets legend Derrick Coleman talks tie-dye uniforms, rebounding, KD and ‘kid with the big afro’

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New Jersey Nets v Washington Bullets

On Monday morning, four of us sat down with Nets legend Derrick Coleman to talk about a variety of things during a wonderful half-hour long sitdown... His post-playing life, which includes a career in building development, youth basketball coaching, and the foundation of Team Michigan (a Jr. NBA squad in Detroit). Kenny Anderson. The KNICKS.

And then, of course, “DC” discussed the new- New Jersey jerseys (what a mouthful!). Coleman donned those spiffy tie-dye threads in his rookie year with the team back in the 1990-1991 season. First, here’s what he had to say about them.

“You know when they first displayed those uniforms, I think the first words out of my mouth was everybody around the league is going to look at us as soft with the tie-die uniform. But as the season progressed, you know, we started getting a lot of feedback about how popular it really, really was, you know. UB in the beginning, though I was like ‘dead no, I don’t want to wear no tie-die. Everybody around the league is going to be cracking jokes and teasing us that we’re soft.’ But as we started to progress and we started, you know, win a little bit more they were like ‘yo, those uniforms are cool.’”

Still a fan, Coleman also shared his thoughts on this year’s Nets, a squad with championship aspirations that is on a mission to carry the torch for legends that came before them.

What better place to begin than with the headache that seems to have no end: rebounding. Much has been said about the Nets' struggles with crashing the glass, and the 2020-2021 group still sits dead-last in offensive rebounds allowed with 14.6 per game. So we asked Coleman, a prolific 10.6-per game rebounder during his tenure as a Net; What’s the deal? Could this be attributed to the group’s bite-sized construction? Is it a byproduct of a switching defense that brings the bigs out toward the perimeter?

“Rebounding is all heart, desire and who wants it the most. It’s all heart. You gotta want the basketball,” explained Coleman plainly.

“I remember I came probably three years ago to Brooklyn––me, Kenny (Anderson), Buck Williams––to an event that they had there. One of the guys there took me to the analytic office. We were sitting there, and he’s got all these analytics on the board. I don’t even know what made him get to the conversation of rebounding, but he said to us, ‘This stat is the best time to go rebound.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘What?! You mean to tell me you have a stat on this board that tells me the best time to go rebound the basketball? No way.

“The best time for me to go rebound the basketball is when it’s being shot. Period.’ But again, it’s all heart. It’s all desire. Who really wants it the most, man. Can’t put a stat on that: Who wants the basketball. You see it at all levels; no box-out. Everybody just turned, watching. And you know as well as I do... Long shot, long-rebound. That’s been the history of the game of basketball forever. But everyone is just turned and watching. Nobody really has the heart and desire to rebound the basketball.”

It’s all heart. Duly noted.

Coleman believes that what will make or break the Nets is beyond just rebounding. Other aspects of the defensive side of the ball––namely communication and a democratic commitment to putting in the work––will shape the course of the season for this potential contender in Brooklyn.

“Well just what you said, the potential is the sky’s the limit with that team. The biggest thing for me in watching them play and you know in the time that I have watched them, I’m not really concerned about the offense. I’m really concerned about the defensive side of the ball, you know, and that just goes with communication you know, everybody talking to each other down a basketball being on the same page. And you see it in spurts and sometimes it is sometimes you just forget the rotation. That comes like you said not being able to practice, not having a real training camp, Kevin (Durant) coming back off of injury. But he’s not showing any of that. So it's just being on the floor and communicating with each other getting everybody on the same base. I just see the struggles right now just going to be better for you later on in the season. Just have to keep continuing to work.”

Coleman was very open about the roster itself, and as a big man, he offered a special level of expertise on Brooklyn’s frontcourt. While DC feels that the Nets boast “two talented guys” in Steve Nash’s center rotation, he made a point to specifically single out “the kid with the afro” for his production. Moreover, he called Jarrett Allen starting-caliber.

“What I’ve seen is, I think we have two talented guys over there. Who’s the kid with the big afro? I love his energy. I love what he brings to the table. I don’t know why he’s not starting. And again, I think everybody’s trying to play small ball. Everybody can’t do that. Golden State showed they were really capable of doing that because they had shooters. They had guys that could pick and pop and shoot the ball. I think you need a big guy in there just to be that presence on the defensive end of the floor and to be able to communicate.”

Other names were brought up as possible breakout candidates for the Nets, including Bruce Brown, a topic of much discussion as someone who could alter the current group’s identity to fit his grindstone style of hustle. To Coleman, there’s certainly room for Bruce in Nash’s 10-man rotation––if, of course, Brown commits to his defensive principles and perhaps diversifies his shot profile a little bit.

“No. I always think it’s room for guys who definitely on the defensive side of the floor, because once you get into a real series in the playoffs, it all boils down to the defense. And everybody’s not gonna be a three-point shooter, and again, what happened to the mid-range? What happened to the in-between game? You’re playing with one of the guys who loves and still does — I mean, he missed the shot the other night — but that’s his shot with Kevin. That was his shot, the mid-range. It’s like big guys and the mid-range game is obsolete right now. SO when you’ve got somebody who can continue to do that, to get into that paint with the pull-up, everyone’s not gonna be able to shoot 3s, but you’re gonna always need some guys that are gonna go out there and stop somebody. You know? My suggestion to him: Keep working on the 3, but I mean, defense wins championships, guys. You’ve gotta be able to get out there and slide your feet.”

Make no mistake, though. Coleman has high hopes for the current squad. Sure, Steve Nash has got some things to figure out––rotations, playing-style, and chemistry-building namely. But DC is “not concerned.” Time is on the Nets side and the little things, like Caris LeVert’s dramatic change in role, will smooth out as the season progresses and the group gains greater familiarity with one another.

“(Laugh). Okay. I can see us coming out of the East. I don’t know if we’re able to win the championship right now. But again all that goes back to what I was saying earlier where you don’t want to have a real training camp. You got a brand new coach, so listening to his philosophies about the game of basketball. Also, you got to create that chemistry. I watched us last year and I was just so proud of Caris LeVert and what he was able to do playing the game. But then you come back this year his whole role changes again, You look at Caris last year, he was a leader of the team. And now you come back, you take a backseat to that. Again, it’s just really getting the chemistry going. But I’m not concerned. Like I said earlier, the offense is gonna be the offense. You’ve gotta get stops, you know, gotta get defensive stops and help defense and play the game on the other end of the floor.”

Heart. Grit. Togetherness. These are the pillars to winning basketball in Derrick Coleman’s eyes. It’s on the entire group to build those things before the 2021 postseason kicks off, just in time for spring.