Maryland's versatile virtuoso

Coleman, ACC's top rookie last season, impresses with her encore performance

December 11, 2006|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- Pretty soon, there will be only one way left for the Maryland women's basketball team to squeeze a little more out of Marissa Coleman's scholarship, and that would be to post her at Comcast Center's doors to take tickets from incoming fans.

On the court, Coleman is doing virtually everything possible to keep the Terps atop the national polls.

Already this season, Coleman, a 6-foot-1 sophomore forward, has posted a pair of double doubles and the first triple double in the program's 35-year history. She is second on the team in assists, minutes and three-point shooting percentage, third in rebounds, field-goal and free-throw percentage, and her scoring is down slightly from her freshman year because she has been making her teammates better.

"Marissa, of all the players who came back, is the most improved," senior guard Shay Doron said. "She lost a lot of weight. She got a lot stronger, and she's so versatile for us. She can play anywhere from point guard to post player. That means she's really good. She's an awesome rebounder. She can do anything. She's one of those players that can just do anything."

To date, Coleman, last season's Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, has seen signs of her development.

"I've got some things that I want to work on, but for this point in this season, I think I'm pretty happy with my conditioning level and my improvements on the defensive end, but there are still little things that you always can work on. The things that you're good at, you want to get better at," Coleman said.

In the short, bliss-filled time she has been at Maryland, Coleman has become the personification of dependability - witness her career shooting accuracy of 45 percent from three-point range and 52 percent overall. Coleman's current career rebounding average of 7.7, if projected over four years, would land her third on the all-time Maryland rebounding list.

Of late, coach Brenda Frese, seeing an opportunity to make use of Coleman's all-around game, has used her at point guard, behind fellow sophomore Kristi Toliver, with solid results. In Maryland's 93-54 win over Siena last Monday, Coleman had 19 points and 12 assists, but it was the game two days earlier, the Terps' 61-point blistering of UC-Santa Barbara, in which she really turned heads.

Against the Gauchos, Coleman became the 11th player in ACC history to post a triple double, finishing with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.

"I have fun playing the point," Coleman said. "It's something that I didn't play most of my life. I'm having fun trying something new. That's another thing Coach B stressed, pushing the ball and getting it up quickly, and that's what I try to do when I'm out there."

Said Frese: "I think Marissa gives us poise when she moves into that slot, wherever she is on the floor. It really helps our offense. I just know what Marissa's strengths are, and with her size, that's an area we can utilize."

Others outside the Maryland locker room have seen Coleman's advancement and project she can only get better. Coleman, along with Doron, Toliver and junior forward Crystal Langhorne, is on a list of preseason nominees for the Wade Trophy, awarded each spring by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and considered to be the sport's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

And Coleman, a second-team All-ACC selection last year - the only freshman to be so honored - was named a second-team preseason All-American by ESPN.com.

"She can dominate the glass, and that's a significant role for her," said Debbie Antonelli, a women's basketball television analyst. "She showed that throughout the postseason last year. She didn't take as many shots. They understand that Langhorne is the go-to [player] and needs her touches. She draws a lot of attention. [Junior forward Laura] Harper has gotten better, but I think Coleman is the one that could have a huge, breakout year for them."

Instead of spending another summer playing internationally with USA Basketball, Coleman spent the offseason working on her shooting and lifting weights to add to her already muscular frame, while losing weight. In addition, Coleman worked to become a better on-the-ball defender, the area of her game she and Frese found lacking last season.

"Coach B and I thought my main weakness last year was on the defensive end," Coleman said. "I didn't want to be a weakness for my team anymore. I wanted to be in the game at the end of close games. I didn't want to be taken out because I was a defensive liability."

Said Frese: "I think it goes to show you what kind of competitor and kind of person Marissa is. She took the part of her game that was her biggest weakness and wanted to turn it into a strength. She didn't choose to go to USA Basketball, but chose to stay here and weight-train and condition and get herself on a better diet. She lost about 10 or 15 pounds. It definitely says where she wants to raise her level of play and raise the level of play for her team."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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