Syracuse Basketball: How DaJuan Coleman's Recovery Affects Orange's Depth

Justin NeumanContributor IIApril 4, 2014

Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman clips his fingernails  in the locker room before practice for their NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Michigan, Friday, April 5, 2013, in Atlanta. Louisville plays Wichita State in a semifinal game on Saturday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip

For the second straight year, Syracuse center DaJuan Coleman saw a knee injury derail his season.

In 2012-13, his freshman year, Coleman had minor surgery on his knee that caused him to miss eight games and play in four of the final 12 on the season. This past year, Coleman again had knee soreness in the same knee and had surgery in January that shelved him for the rest of the year.

Coleman is continuing to rehabilitate his knee, but it doesn't look like he will be back to 100 percent for the start of next season.

In a report on by Donna Ditota, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said "he's putting weight on it now" and could do some running during the summer. Boeheim continued to detail Coleman's prognosis to Ditota:

Then we'll see how it reacts. We don't know. He could play maybe a little bit in September, I'm told. We have no idea about next year. It's possible that he could be at practice in October. But it's possible he might not be able to practice full speed until December, November.

Ditota said that Coleman's injury was diagnosed as a bone bruise at first, but that diagnosis was changed and surgery was required. No one from Boeheim to SU athletic trainer Brad Pike to Dr. Bradley Raphael, who performed Coleman's surgery, could give the specifics of the injury without Coleman's permission.

According to Ditota, Coleman and Raphael said the injury happened after a collision in practice.

Ditota also said that Coleman told her during the NCAA tournament in Buffalo that he would be off his crutches soon and could start doing weight-bearing exercises. The fact that he was still on crutches in March after surgery in January must mean the injury was more serious that it originally seemed.

This is all very concerning news with regard to the Orange's prospects for next season. If Coleman isn't ready to go at the start of the season, he could be given a medical redshirt. There is no report of that being a possibility; it is pure speculation.

Even if he isn't redshirted, it doesn't look like Coleman will be ready to play at the beginning of the season. If he is only able to do light running over the summer along with his rehab, it's hard to imagine he will be in game shape come November. His conditioning was already something he struggled with, especially during his freshman year.

Additionally, Coleman will not be able to work on his game over the summer. It will be hard for him to make any improvements to his offensive arsenal or, more importantly, his familiarity in the middle of the zone.

Coleman's potential absence could also have a big effect on the team. What once could have been considered a deep position all of a sudden becomes alarmingly shallow.

Rakeem Christmas would likely be the starter in the middle either way. However, without Coleman, Chinonso Obokoh becomes Christmas' only backup. Obokoh redshirted last year, so he has no game experience at the college level.

It is possible incoming freshman Chris McCullough could get some time at center, but Mike Waters of didn't even mention that as a possibility in his player report for Obokoh.

That leaves Christmas very little margin for error. He played well with no backup when Baye Keita went down this past season, but that was only over the course of a few games. Considering Christmas' inconsistent play over the course of his career, it's hard to expect him to be able to achieve that high level of play for a full season.

If Christmas has to sit, it could cause the defense to fall apart with an unseasoned reserve coming in.

Coleman's potential absence also takes away some lineup flexibility. Boeheim could either start Christmas at forward with Coleman in the middle, or he could give Coleman the Dion Waiters role and have him come off the bench. Having a 6'9" 280-pound monster on the boards would be a tremendous luxury to have as a sixth man.

And when Coleman is healthy, he is indeed a monster in the middle. Per Waters' player report for Coleman, the big man averaged one offensive rebound for every 5.4 minutes of playing time. Sure, it was a small sample size, but considering how relentless Coleman was on the offensive glass, there's little reason to think he couldn't keep it up.

Trevor Cooney could also benefit from a healthy Coleman. Christmas has never been much of a threat underneath on offense. If Coleman developed a post game, though, he would need to be double-teamed or he would eat most defenders alive.

A double-team could leave Cooney open on the perimeter, which would give him some more easy looks. After the way this year ended, Cooney needs all of the good looks he can get. If Cooney knocks those shots down, opposing teams would be hesitant to double Coleman with Cooney's defender, which could leave Coleman one-on-one.

It's tough to see a player with such a positive attitude and willingness to work hard get held back by injuries. Even when Coleman was injured last year, he was always in good spirits.

Coleman can't rush to get back and run the risk of doing further damage. It's unlikely the training staff would allow that anyway. But the Orange need Coleman back as soon as possible. With him at full strength, the Orange are a completely different and much more versatile team.