If you look closely enough, you can find unsung but critically important contributors in basketball programs around the country. Men and women who live in the gym, relish learning the business, love the game, and commit to helping their schools while charting their own professional and personal course.
Jerrell Coleman, Director of Player Development for David Cox’s staff at the University of Rhode Island, is one of these bright, young minds.
An alum already entering his eighth season with the program, Coleman has occupied his current role since the summer of 2018. He’s a service-oriented leader who exudes a natural and sincere energy and understands the Rhody program as well as anyone.
It is my sincere hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Chris DiSano: Let’s start by digging into your background. Can you offer a glimpse into your upbringing, family, and where your love for this game developed?
Jerrell Coleman: I’m a Jersey guy. Growing up in Jersey is a basketball mecca. You grow up either wanting to go to St. Patrick’s, Roselle Catholic, or St. Benedict’s. That was huge for me growing up in the Roosevelt area, it was a no brainer.
I started off at St. Patrick’s and, ironically, my brother went to St. Benedict’s and played for Coach [Dan] Hurley. My brother (ten years older than me) and father are St. Benedict’s alumni. My brother went on to play baseball at NJIT and my dad played at Shaw University.
I was also a three-sport person playing football, basketball and baseball but I took a little different route. I didn’t want to go to St. Benedict’s because I wanted to carve my own path. I ended up going to St. Patrick’s and it was a great situation with Coach Kevin Boyle.
Kyrie Irving was a senior, Dexter Strickland had just gone to UNC, [Michael Kidd] Gilchrist was a junior… and we had a great group of guys coming in my freshman year. It was setup for me to stay in the inner city and start off there. I really enjoyed it. Two years in, Coach Boyle ended up going to Montverde.
Right there is when I still did want to pursue the basketball dream. I always wanted to do basketball a bit more and always had a passion for coaching.
It made sense. I wasn’t growing any more, so I started to learn, “How can I stay out of the way but still impact the game and do things where I could be a valuable asset, learn my craft, and do something for my family.”
I went back to Roselle Catholic. I was still playing but I started to feel that shift in myself. I knew at the end of the day the ball was going to stop bouncing soon. I was happy I felt that in high school and wasn’t ready to give up a dream, so it was a no brainer for me.
I eventually came full circle and went back to Abraham Clark for my senior year, the Roselle public school.
Your family has been incredibly influential from your grandfather, a respected reverend who just had a street named after him, to your mom and many others. Give us a feel for their influence on you?
My entire family has been a huge influence. My grandfather did come here in the 1960’s where things were raw and self-explanatory for a man coming into the inner city from Virginia.
He dug his heels in there with his three daughters, my mom being one of them, and my grandmother… and he built a church and then it took off from there. He got into juvenile justice reform, started doing affordable housing in the same community, did nonprofit organizations and opened buildings that he gave to my aunt who founded an organization called Brand New Day.
It was funny, I was sitting at the recent ceremony for him and people started to call him Mayor, saying he should’ve run for Mayor – so that was pretty cool.
They’re Naming 1st & Mag after my grandfather this weekend. OG still alive. That’s dope. Not too many get their flowers while they can still smell them. That’s humbling. That’s Goals. That’s Noble.
— Jerrell Coleman (@RealWorldRell) October 23, 2020
That ties into my family as well. My mom ran for office; has been on the Board of Education. I’ve always been around politics, giving back to the community, instilling some good things in people around me and being taught some good stuff.
That ties into why I did go back to Abraham Clark eventually to finish up. I know there could be a change in the community I might be able to spark some day if I were to go back there.
I can still see it at Rhode Island where I am now with my family here, where Coach Cox’s ideas and philosophies are along the same lines of humanitarian and being a teacher first.
From my grandfather I learned you can always do more for someone, you should always believe in yourself, and you should always stand on what you believe in… no matter how old you are or how big you are.
My family has rubbed off on me so much that I started doing a scholarship event with one of my great friends back home called New Rules. We did a charity basketball game with free haircuts, a bookbag drive, and gave out two scholarships. Xavier Munford came back to play along with other guys I either played with in high school or been around out here.
That’s always been my family – being in the community and trying to make a change.
As far as your journey to URI initially, what brought you here?
Coach Hurley for sure.
Before he actually came to URI I always wanted to go to Wagner. Wherever he was at I felt that if I was able to get my foot in the door as a manager, I would be able to learn and be groomed.
Once I saw he was here, I immediately reached out, filled out my application. I filled out countless applications but this was one of my top schools. I spoke with Coach Hurley, let him know I was coming to visit the campus, had the freshman orientation, spoke with him and it worked out.
Once you get around him, he can instill a mentality and work ethic that – even if you had it already – it can be taken to another level.
You begin under Coach Hurley, the program has success, and during that success Coach Cox enters as a key member of that staff. What stuck out about him to you?
I didn’t know Coach Cox prior to when he came in. But there was something about him from the moment he arrived. He was well dressed, stood on everything he said, he believed in himself and gave off an energy where he was teaching you something. He believed in you. He believed that there could be more out of you.
I learned that the more I was around him. The way I saw him interact with players, students, and fans, there was something about him that made me gravitate towards him and learn even more – never mind the climate we’re now in today. I aspire to be a black head coach one day.
From family members like your grandfather and mother to Coach Cox and others… from a social justice perspective, what has your relationship with Coach Cox taught you?
One important thing is that it’s not just from a basketball standpoint or a yearly standpoint, this is 401 years and still counting.
It resonates a little more now because I’m in a position where I’m watching him teach younger guys. It’s bigger than basketball as we know and there’s a bigger picture to what’s going on.
The more people that can be cognizant of it, realize what has happened, and realized what can’t happen any longer, that would be the change we need see in this world and society.
In terms of your general relationship with Coach Cox, how has that grown over the last couple of years since he has assumed the head coaching role and you have become an even more integral part of the staff?
It’s grown in many ways.
I’m able to pick his brain a little more in terms of X’s and O’s or how we should deal with certain situations on a day to day basis.
Because I am in closer contact, I can see not only what it takes to run a program but the things than can or can’t go wrong, the type of culture that needs to be instilled, and the type of things that need to be done on a day to day basis to make you successful.
For those who may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the Director of Player Development role, can you color in the sketch for them?
With being Director of Player Development I am Coach Cox’s right-hand man.
I’m in charge of the schedules and his day-to-day operations. It’s a little different now with COVID, but it entails staying on top of academics, making sure guys are keeping up and at classes on time, pre and post-game meals, community initiatives like us all getting out to vote recently. It’s a lot.
I’ve done so many different things in the eight years I’ve been here. With the new rules change in these COVID guidelines, I’m able to be on the court so I’m a little more intertwined with the players. I’m eager to learn, still jumping in, and navigating through the business. I love it.
You have been here many years already spanning your time as an undergrad and now staff member. Among the many relationships you have made with players here at Rhody… which ones have stood out?
First and foremost, it’s Xavier Munford.
With me being out here for eight years he was the first person to show me how Coach Hurley was, what to eat on campus, things in general. Coming out here, he was a senior from Hillside, NJ, and I’m from Elizabeth – so that’s one person that I’ve always been cool with. We still talk all the time. When he’s out here for the summers or just visiting we always make time to get together and grab a bite to eat.
Jarvis Garrett and I are inseparable. If I had a twin… (laughs).
Of late, Jeff Dowtin. I was with him for four years. I was a baby trying to navigate through the college business and trying to get on staff. When he was a freshman player I felt like I was a freshman trying to get into coaching. We grew up through the years and we’ve grown to be close.
Hassan Martin and T.J. Buchanan are in there too.
Great segue… not sure if it is published, but I did a series of video interviews including one with Malik Martin for GoRhody.com and Malik and I talked about the relationship that you and he have.
After spending that time with Hassan and now having Malik here, what is your read on those two?!
Yeah, we joke about that all the time. Me and Hass were pretty close but he and E.C. Matthews were inseparable. You had your relationship with Hass, but E.C. kept him to himself (laughs). It’s great.
You see so much in Malik on the floor, in his personality, the type of player he is and person he is. He’s a great guy, fun to be around, but at the end of the day he’s willing to get the work done no matter what. He’s selfless. He’s a Martin.
Let’s change lanes to practice being underway and its structure in this public health environment. How are things transpiring through the fall?
We started in pods where we couldn’t go over about four or five people. It was only group workouts and skill development.
A couple weeks ago, we were able to get more into a team function. Still a social distancing setting where coaches and staff have masks on, and players seats are separated.
It’s been interesting but, at the same time, we’re grateful to be able to get on the court and stay healthy. The University has done a great job with helping us stay healthy and giving us everything we need to get ready for the season.
Can you share some high-level thoughts about the team?
This team is very talented, all in their own way. They’re meshing together day by day and it will be interesting to see them on the court together when games begin. I honestly can’t wait.
Jeremy Sheppard is a guy I’m really looking forward to seeing play. As a point guard, his outlook on everything is interesting. You want him to share what he’s thinking and express himself. I’m rooting for him.
Our expectations don’t change. We want to go out, work hard, and play the Rhody way. At the end of the day if we do that, we’ll end up right where we need to be. Our goal is to play well going into March. Us sticking to the script, being a tight-knit family, is usually what gets it done.
Always making sure we’re playing defense, talking, and playing the game our way. That is the recipe. Only we can get in our way.
Appreciate you taking the time to chat Jerrell. Anything you want to wrap this with today?
I have a great appreciation for Coach Cox, what he’s doing here, and the opportunity he’s given me. I’m proud to be a URI alum, be out here for eight years, learn and grow… and really understand what life is and basketball is.
Big ups to Coach Cox and Coach Hurley as much as possible – and how proud I am to be a Rhody alum.