Jennifer Coleman laughed when asked how she felt about being described as a “dog” by Navy women’s basketball coach Tim Taylor.
“I think what coach Taylor means is that I go hard all the time and really get after it out on the court,” Coleman said. “I’m a very competitive person who is going to do whatever it takes to win. I’m going to fight like crazy to give my team an edge.”
Taylor made that comment after Coleman posted a pair of double-doubles to spark a weekend sweep of Loyola Maryland Feb. 13 and 14. The 5-foot-9 junior guard scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds on Saturday and 24 hours later totaled 15 points and 14 rebounds.
That impressive performance earned Coleman the Patriot League Player of the Week honor for the first time in her career.
In sports parlance, the word Taylor used refers to a player possessing a junkyard dog mentality — stubborn, tough and tenacious. Taken to the extreme, it can also mean being vicious, nasty and savage.
“That’s a universal basketball term for someone you want to go to battle with, someone you know you can count on to make plays,” Taylor said. “That’s the type of person you want on your team. I think it’s probably the highest compliment you can give a competitive athlete.”
Coleman has backed up her determined on-court demeanor with tremendous production, leading Navy in scoring, rebounding and assists. She’s averaging a double-double with 17.8 points and 11.1 boards, while also amassing 33 assists and 18 steals.
“I think Coleman may be the most complete guard in the league. She’s just so talented and multi-dimensional,” Army West Point coach Dave Magarity said. “Watching on tape, it seems like Coleman does things so effortlessly. She’s very athletic and explosive, but also has such great natural instincts. I think that’s what separates her from other players.”
With Coleman as the catalyst, Navy has exceeded expectations so far this season. Picked to finish last among 10 schools in the preseason Patriot League poll, the Midshipmen are in contention to capture the South Division crown going into the final week of the regular season.
American currently sits atop the South Division standings with a 5-1 record, but Navy controls its own destiny with three games remaining. The Midshipmen (5-2) can take a major step toward overtaking the Eagles when the schools meet Wednesday night at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C.
If Navy beats American then wins one of two games against Loyola Maryland, it would win the South Division and earn a top three seed for the Patriot League Tournament.
Coleman has notched a double-double in six of the eight games she’s played this season and now has 15 for her career. The Richmond, Virginia, native has flirted with a triple-double, coming up three assists shy earlier this season against Morgan State.
“Jenn has become more consistent in all aspects of her game,” Taylor said. “We pretty much know what we’re going to get out of her from game to game, which is reassuring from a coaching perspective.”
Taylor had a long talk with Coleman about shot selection after she went 5-for-17 from the field in a loss to Army West Point. She responded by shooting 62% (18-29) in the two games against Loyola.
“We talked about being more mindful of keeping the entire team in rhythm. Coming down and taking quick shots doesn’t allow that to happen,” Taylor said. “Coming down and pulling up for a jumper on four straight possessions … that’s not good for the team. As a point guard, you have got to facilitate. You have to run the offense so other players touch the ball.”
There’s been no need for Taylor to address rebounding with Coleman, whose instincts in that department cannot be taught. Coleman reminds Taylor of Dennis Rodman, an undersized power forward who ranks among the all-time greatest rebounders in NBA history.
“Jenn just has an innate ability to track the ball coming off the basket. She is also very aggressive in going after the ball in the air,” Taylor said.
Coleman has watched videos of Rodman plying his trade while capturing multiple championships with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. She remembers hearing Michael Jordan talk about Rodman’s nose for the ball and work ethic with regard to getting position and boxing out.
“Really, it’s just desire and want-to. Going after rebounds is just something that comes second nature,” Coleman said.
Coleman burst onto the scene as plebe by leading Navy in scoring (13.1 points), rebounding (8.2) and assists (2.9). She was a third team Patriot League All-Rookie selection and seemingly headed for a prolific career.
Her sophomore season, however, was one to forget for Coleman, who suffered a concussion during the nonconference portion of the schedule then was declared academically ineligible at the beginning of the spring semester.
“Those were some of the toughest times I’ve been through. I dealt with a lot of adversity last season,” Coleman acknowledged. “Fortunately, I had my parents and family behind me every step of the way. I’m also blessed to have some great mentors here at the academy, some professors and advisors that helped me get on track and stay focused.”
Coleman improved her academic standing enough to get reinstated toward the end of the Patriot League portion of the schedule. She played in the last five games.
Shortly after being hired in April, Taylor spoke with Coleman and never once asked about what happened the 2019-20 season. The former Virginia and North Carolina assistant wanted all the Navy women’s basketball players to start off with a clean slate.
“In the first conversation I had with Jenn, all I said was that I expect you to go to class, expect you to get good grades,” Taylor said. “If you want to be a great basketball player, it’s not just about what happens on the court. You have to be a great student and a great person as well.”
What Coleman remembers most about that initial talk was Taylor’s vow to truly care and show constant support.
“Coach Taylor kept saying ‘I believe in you’ over and over. Sometimes, all it takes is someone believing in you,” she said. “I know coach Taylor and the rest of the staff have my back.”
Coleman is still chasing that elusive triple-double and won’t be satisfied until accomplishing that goal. She also wants to improve as a 3-point shooter as she’s not pleased with career .338 percentage from beyond the arc.
“Miss Coleman has a long way to go to reach her full potential. I really wish Jenn was a freshman, so this staff could see where we could take her,” Taylor said. “Just this season we’ve seen her mid-range game really develop because we made some tweaks to it. There is so much more that Jenn can bring to the table.”
Taylor described Coleman as a “willing learner who welcomes being challenged and wants to get better.”