Thrust into a starting role as a sophomore, Jordan Coleman flourished.
Over the first seven games of the 2009-10 season, she dominated the post for Vanderbilt. The 5-foot-11 forward averaged 7.4 points, led the team in steals and was second in rebounding.
She was enjoying the best season of her young career. Then it abruptly ended.
In the closing minutes against Wright State, with the outcome no longer in doubt, she sustained a season-ending injury to her left knee. She returned the following season but wasn’t the same player — nor was she asked to be. She made just 10 starts and averaged 1.4 points and 2.9 rebounds the next two years.
“That injury was rough. It was bad timing,” Coleman said. “[But] I don’t think it extremely messed up my career.”
No, in fact, the injury extended her basketball career.
Three years later, Coleman has found new life just down the street at Belmont. Enrolled in grad school, she is using a fifth year of eligibility and is making the most of the extra season.
Coleman leads the way as the Bruins dive into their first season in the Ohio Valley Conference. No longer in the background, she leads the team in scoring, rebounding and steals and is nearly averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 9.9 rebounds.
“Jordan is competitive,” coach Brittany Ezell said. “When we bring in transfers we want them to reflect a little bit of the coaching staff. Jordan reflects a lot of my personality and how competitive she is regardless of drill, regardless of time and score. Jordan is a winner and will always be a winner in everything she does. We needed that to bridge the gap to where we’ve been to where we’re going.
“She has just been the ideal transfer.”
In April, a month before finishing her undergraduate degree, Coleman bumped into Ezell at the A.D. Hancock-Walter Nipper Sportsmanship Awards, where Coleman was one of several recipients. Coleman had been the lone senior on a Vanderbilt team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but she wasn’t ready to hang up her sneakers — and she didn’t have to.
Since she played in less than 30 percent of Vanderbilt’s total games during the 2009-10 season due to injury, she was eligible for an NCAA medical hardship.
Ezell pitched the opportunity to stay in Nashville, play for the Bruins and continue her education at Belmont. She quickly convinced Coleman, who is pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership and communication but hopes to venture into sports marketing.
Ezell also got the thumbs up from Jasmine Lister and Elan Brown. The Vanderbilt guards, two of Coleman’s closest friends, are often in the front row of Belmont games when they’re not playing for the Commodores.
“I had to win over Jasmine and Elan, as well as Jordan, on the first day,” Ezell said laughing. “What I like seeing is the meshing and melding of the two programs. Their kids come over. Our kids go over there. They hang out off the floor. What a great thing. What I told Jordan, the best part about being a scholarship athlete is having a team. These are teams and friends that she’ll have the rest of her life and Jordan now has two. That’s a pretty neat thing.”
With Coleman’s presence — and that of four other Division I transfers — her second collegiate team continues to make strides.
The Bruins (7-7) are off to a 2-0 start in league play, which resumes Saturday at Tennessee Tech. Ezell, a former standout at Franklin High and Alabama, is in her third year as coach. In her first year, Belmont was one win away from the NCAA Tournament and last year the Bruins improved from sixth to third in the Atlantic Sun regular-season standings.
The momentum carried over into this winter. Belmont received three first-place votes and was picked to finish third in the OVC East division. Last month, the Bruins upset Big Ten foe Indiana on the road.
“We’ve played phenomenal. We’ve shown what potential we have to be a really great team,” Coleman said. “I think playing that way has made a lot of our younger players believe and realize they have expectations when they get on the floor.”
As for Coleman, the Orlando native improves every time she steps onto the floor.
She has been named the OVC Newcomer of the Week five times and has recorded four double-doubles.
“I think she has always had that ability,” Lister said. “But [Vanderbilt coach Melanie] Balcomb has always been, ‘Play your role. Play it well.’ So that’s what we do. Everybody plays their role well and Jordan Coleman tried to do that. And now she can play her role to her best ability over there. It’s great. I like to see her playing well. She is dominating.”
Coleman insists she hasn’t changed her approach since switching schools. By combining the teachings of Balcomb, Vanderbilt assistant Vicki Picott and Belmont’s coaching staff, she has benefitted. Of course, shooting more doesn’t hurt.
In 14 games, she has attempted 120 shots — 11 more than her entire career at Vanderbilt. And exactly half have gone in for her highest shooting percentage since she made 51.5 percent as a sophomore for the Commodores.
“[Ezell] has emphasized me having confidence in my shot,” Coleman said. “I was a little timid. I just didn’t feel like I should shoot it over a shooter. Because that wasn’t my role I just didn’t feel like that is what I should do. I guess that has become a part of my role here.”
With just three seniors, Coleman has also played the role of leader for the second straight year.
That transition, like her move to Belmont, has been seamless.
“She is a natural-born leader,” Ezell said. “The kids respond to her right away. I think it is because Jordan is a very unassuming star. She doesn’t want the attention. She doesn’t crave it. But when she has an opportunity to step up into the limelight, she thrives on it.”
And, three years later, she is getting another chance at her breakout season.