In Dajuan Coleman's first live action of college basketball in a few years, the 6-foot-9 big-man scored 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in 23 minutes. His last outing before Monday? January 7, 2014, where he played only 3 minutes, grabbed two rebounds and committed one foul in a 20-point victory over Virginia Tech.
Through Coleman's first three years at Syracuse, he's played in 36 games, averaged 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game. DaJuan was a McDonald's All-American at Jamesville-DeWitt, where he averaged 17.8 points per game over his four-year varsity career. He has the talent, we know. The only thing that has stopped Dajuan Coleman from being Dajuan Coleman are his knees, which seem to be healthy for the first time in a long time.
Coleman came alive in the second half on Monday night after Syracuse made him a focal point in the offense. His 15 and 7 game is the best I can remember off the top of my head. I know, "It's Le Moyne," but the numbers are still impressive. Dajuan went 7-for-9 from the field, including 4 offensive rebounds. After the game, he said he felt good, saying, "Overall, I'm pretty happy with tonight."
Coach Boeheim told reporters after the game, "Not playing in two years, it was exceptionally good, probably."
So, how should Syracuse manage Dajuan's minutes?
We've seen 23 minutes from Coleman so far this year, and he feels good, which he should. If he's as healthy and he says, there shouldn't be any problems this early. However, we all know that no one makes it through a full college basketball season without getting banged up. Dajuan is going to be sore, he's going to play through pain, everyone does. But with a history of injuries, Syracuse needs to be cautious, very cautious.
Junior center Chinonso Obokoh proved once again that he cannot be relied upon. The game is still moving too fast for the Bishop Kearney graduate. At times on Monday he looked lost, confused and uncomfortable. In his 11 minutes of action, Obokoh committed three fouls and was unable to corral a single rebound.
Coach Boeheim said Dajuan isn't on a "minutes limit," meaning he's free to play as much as he physically can. I'm not totally buying that. Maybe he can play as much as he can, but coach Boeheim knows who's behind him. Syracuse can't rely on Chino Obokoh to play legitimate minutes, and if they could, this wouldn't be a topic of discussion.
Until Dajuan gets enough minutes under his belt, there's no reason to push him. After the final exhibition game on Sunday against Florida Southern, the Orange play Lehigh, St. Bonaventure and Elon, all at the Carrier Dome. My thought is Boeheim will gradually extend Coleman's minutes within those three games. If Syracuse needs Dajuan to play over 25 minutes against any of those three teams, their issues extend far beyond his health.
In the next four games, including Sunday's exhibition, Coleman should play anywhere from 15-25 minutes. There's just no reason for anything more than that. Coach Boeheim can find 15-20 minutes from Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson and Chino Obokoh. Once ACC play rolls around, Coleman should be up to roughly 30-33 minutes per game, which would ideal. Roberson, Lydon and Obokoh can give you 7-10 minutes a game during conference play.
Even if Dajuan is 100% healthy and in-shape for the first time in his college career, why risk it? Why risk losing your starting center this early? He's battled knee problems and those typically don't just go away. Ask any former basketball player with knee problems -- they stay with you forever.
If Coleman can give Syracuse anything around 15 points and 7 rebounds a night in 23 minutes, sign me up, because that'll be about as good as it gets. With that said, I expect more around 8 points and 5 rebounds a night, which anyone in their right mind would take, especially with a team that will be shooting around thirty 3-pointers a night.