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Noel Coleman is ready to start new journey at Hawai’i

Noel Coleman might be part of a San Diego-to-Hawai’i connection, but his journey to join the University of Hawai’i basketball team traversed farther and further.

Coleman, a 6-foot-1 transfer guard, arrived in Honolulu earlier this month, and is just about done with his mandatory quarantine. He played last season as a freshman at the University of San Diego and will be a sophomore for the 2020-21 season, which is still in question due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just excited to be in Hawai’i after everything that’s going on,” Coleman said. “Hopefully we have a season and we get to come together as a group to work for a championship. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Coleman was raised in Leopoldsburg, Belgium, then attended his last two years of high school in Wichita, Kansas, then played his first season of college basketball at San Diego. Over this uncertain summer, he sheltered in place at Buffalo, New York. Yes, he has a long story.

“Growing up in Belgium is different, especially if you want to play basketball,” he said. “It was difficult at times because soccer is the main sport. There are pro teams in Belgium, but it’s not the same level as other countries in Europe and in America. So when I got the opportunity to go to America for high school to play basketball, I looked at it as something I needed to do.”

He played high school basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy, which is ranked as one of the best programs in the country. In addition to his time there, he played for Belgium’s U18 national team.

He prefers to play the point guard position, but is comfortable anywhere in the backcourt. “I feel like I’m an athletic point guard, but I love to help my team win more than anything. I bring passing to the table, but I feel like I can shoot the ball as well and score when I need to.”

Coleman was recruited by several programs while he was in high school, including Hawai’i and San Diego. The assistant coaches who recruited him then were John Montgomery and Chris Gerlufsen. As it turns out, both are now on the Hawai’i staff under head coach Eran Ganot.

“I was recruited to San Diego by Coach Chris and I remember we were in summer session (2019) when we got word that Coach Chris was leaving for Hawai’i,” Coleman said. “I guess I never had the same relationship with the other coaches and it kind of took me out of the year.

“As far as Hawai’i, when Coach Montgomery was recruiting me in high school, he told me a lot of good things about Hawai’i. Knowing that Coach Chris was there, too, I started to focus on Hawai’i after my year was over at San Diego.”

The global pandemic did not help with his transition. After the University of San Diego campus shut down in March, Coleman was invited to stay with his girlfriend’s family in Buffalo.

“I spoke with my parents about coming home to Belgium, but they said it might not be the best decision if I wanted to keep playing basketball in America,” he said. “Luckily, my girlfriend’s family let me stay with them.”

Coleman said he spent much of the COVID summer training in neighborhood parks and in the driveway of his girlfriend’s family home.

“Her father used to play Division I basketball at Canisius so we played a little bit at the park across the street,” Coleman said. “And they have a hoop at their house, so I did a lot of work on my own also.”

Due to the pandemic, he did not make a recruiting trip to Hawai’i prior to completing his transfer.  “My first trip to Hawai’i and I can only stay in my room,” he said. “But it’s good. The coaches text us with a schedule of things to do.”

Coleman was a reserve guard at San Diego last season, averaging 2.4 points per game. Another USD player, forward James Jean-Marie, is transferring to Hawai’i for the 2020-21 season. Because the students were dismissed from campus due to the pandemic, Coleman and Jean-Marie were not initially aware that they both were planning on transferring to Hawai’i.

“I was kind of focused on Hawai’i from the start,” Coleman said. “It was only after a while that I heard James was also looking at Hawai’i, and that’s when we had a few conversations. We talked a little bit, but we made our own decisions.”

Jean-Marie said of Coleman: “Noel is a great finisher around the rim. He’s a great shooter as well. He’s really good at making plays off the ball screen. He’s really fast, so he can play defense. He’s versatile as well. He’s a good player.”

Coleman said of the 6-8 Jean-Marie: “James is a great rebounder. He’s really strong and gets buckets in the paint. The surprising thing with him is that for his size, he can really shoot. His post-up game is strong, but he can take it out to the 3 and shoot it. He’s a great teammate.”

Because of the sudden and inconclusive end to college basketball’s 2019-20 season, Coleman (and Jean-Marie) is expecting to play immediately for the Warriors during the upcoming – but still uncertain – 2020-21 season.

“I got my waiver,” he said. “I’m ready to get going.”

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