Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

Coleman Earns Scholarship

Justin Coleman overcame a traumatic injury to become a UNC Basketball walk-on. Now he's going to be on scholarship.

A little more than four years ago, Justin Coleman wasn’t sure if he’d live a normal life, let alone play basketball at North Carolina.

During a 16U AAU game with his Garner Road teammates in Raleigh, Coleman had a breakaway layup. As he went to the basket, he was pushed in the back. He tumbled to the ground, going from vertical to horizontal in a split-second.

What had started as a chance for two points, ended with a broken neck.

“His doctor said he was very close to being paralyzed from the neck down,” said Dwayne West, director of the Garner Road AAU program. “We didn’t know if he was going to ever play again.”

The journey Coleman started during rehab after his injury ended on Monday.

Roy Williams called Coleman, who was a walk-on for the Tar Heels that appeared in 10 games in 2014-15, and told the Raleigh native he has a full scholarship for his final year in Chapel Hill.

“He was very excited when he called me yesterday,” explained West. “He started thanking me for everything and I was like ‘yeah, no problem.’ Then he told me and it was a great moment. It was loud in my truck.”

Coming out of Raleigh (N.C.) Broughton, Coleman received several Division II scholarship offers, but felt a tug to attend North Carolina, his dream school.

His AAU teammate and roommate Isaiah Hicks was being recruited by UNC as early as his sophomore season. That gave the UNC staff a chance to see Coleman.

“I told them what type of high character guy Justin is,” West said. “With all these kids out here that have a sense of entitlement… because they got rated four stars or five stars real early, Justin isn’t like that. Here you have a story about a kid who wanted to play for Carolina, graduate from Carolina and he just went through an unbelievable test to continue on.

“Most kids would’ve said, ‘I broke my neck, I’m done with basketball.’ Not Justin. He wanted to live his dream.”

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