RCW: Turning a bad break into fast breaks
Kansas big man and Bahamas native Dwight Coleby is finally on the court and contributing for the Jayhawks after a few bumps and turns along the way, including a knee injury that occupied much of his 2015-16 season after transferring from Ole Miss.
It was the fall of 2015 and new transfer big man Dwight Coleby, along with the rest of the Kansas men’s basketball team were on their last day of Boot Camp.
Since head coach Bill Self’s arrival to Kansas, Boot Camp has been an annual event in Lawrence. An intense 10-day workout over two weeks filled with early-morning conditioning, Boot Camp is not for the weary. For Coleby, it was the first Boot Camp of his Jayhawk career. On the final day, Friday, September 25, Coleby and the rest of the team survived the gruesome conditioning session, but had a practice later that afternoon.
The transfer from Ole Miss had a predetermined plan for the upcoming year. According to NCAA transfer rules, Coleby could not play in regular season or postseason games for the Jayhawks. He was, however, allowed to work out, practice and scrimmage with the team. He was planning to use this opportunity to sharpen his game and prepare for Big 12 Conference play.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward was looking forward to spending the year banging in the low post with the likes of outgoing Jayhawks like then-seniors Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson, and future NBA first-round draft pick Cheick Diallo, as well as current teammates Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg Jr.
As that particular practice was winding down, something happened that permanently altered Coleby’s plan for his first season with the Jayhawks.
“I think practice was about to end in like five or 10 minutes,” Coleby said. “I had screened and rolled, got the ball passed to me and I went to drive to the basket. I went to explode and try to dunk it, and I didn’t even get off the floor, (my left knee) just gave out.”
The damage to the left knee was vast with a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus, while also suffering a micro-fracture.
“It happened so quickly, but when it was happening, it happened in slow motion,” Coleby said. “I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t going up, so I looked down and I could see my knee come out and it went back in and I just dropped. I thought I snapped it or something.”
While preparing for surgery and the rehabilitation road ahead of him, Coleby thought about his long journey to becoming a member of the Kansas men’s basketball team, and how far he had come in the sport.
Born into a big family with five siblings, Coleby grew up in Nassau, Bahamas.
He started his sports career much like former KU big men Jeff Withey and Joel Embiid – playing volleyball. Coleby did not have the skills to play basketball yet, but it was always on his mind.
“I always had a basketball in my hand, even though I could not play when I was little, I was always trying,” Coleby said. “My brother played, and I used to go to his games and he would just be dunking and the crowd would always just go crazy, so I just always wanted to do that.”
Kadeem Coleby, Dwight’s older brother, started his college basketball career at Louisiana-Lafayette before transferring to play for Wichita State. He then had a brief stint in the NBA D-League and last played in the country of Bahrain for the Al Manama club.
Soon enough, the younger Coleby’s body started to change, so he wanted to follow his brother in basketball and needed to do something about it. He moved from Nassau to Freeport, Bahamas, about 130 miles north.
It was there that he really began coming into his own as a basketball player, skill-wise and with his body.
“When I was in Nassau, I started to gain weight and get fat,” Coleby said. “And then when I moved to Freeport, I got connected with my new coach. He trained me, I started to lose weight and started to grow. He helped me get it all put together.”
Darrell Sears coached Coleby in AAU for the Bahamas Jaguars and for two years in high school at St. George’s High School. Considered one of the best coaches in the Bahamas, Sears has coached many future college and professional basketball players including current NBA player and former college superstar Buddy Hield. Sears has been traveling with his team to the U.S., since the 1990s to help his players gain exposure to American basketball.
During Coleby’s junior year of high school, Sears’ connections help land the future Jayhawk forward a spot in The Piney Woods School, located in Piney Woods, Mississippi. The Piney Woods School is the largest African American boarding school in the United States.
When he arrived in the U.S., two new things happened to Coleby. He was given a brand new home in the heart of Mississippi, and he was also starting to get recruited to play Division I college basketball.
“As soon as I came over here, it started,” Coleby said.
During his senior season at Piney Woods, it was easy to see why college recruiters were buzzing. He averaged 20 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and five blocks per game. He was ranked as the No. 2 player in Mississippi and ESPN ranked him as the No. 15 center in the nation. He was named to the Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen, which every year names 12 of the top Mississippi high school basketball players. Current NBA player and University of Kentucky alum Devin Booker and current Kansas teammate and fellow transfer Malik Newman joined Coleby on that list.
The schools interested in Coleby were all over the south. They included Ole Miss, Georgia, Memphis, Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi. He really only had one thing in mind when he was thinking about where to go to school.
After leaving his family and his comfort zone back in the Bahamas to go pursue a basketball career in Mississippi, Coleby wanted to stay around the area that he spent the past two years; the place where he just started feeling at home.
“I really just wanted to stay around the Mississippi area,” Coleby said.
He ended up committing to play for Ole Miss and head coach Andy Kennedy.
During his first year at Ole Miss, Coleby played in 28 games and averaged 10.4 minutes per game. For the year, he shot 47.1 percent from the floor. In his second year, Coleby played in all 34 games, averaged five points and five rebounds, while playing 16.5 minutes per game. He also got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament as the Rebels beat BYU and subsequently lost to Xavier in the second round. In those two games combined, he had seven points, two blocks and 11 rebounds.
“(My first two years) were good,” Coleby said “I had a good experience there. I really enjoyed it.”
“There was not really a specific reason why I decided to leave Ole Miss,” Coleby said. “I just wanted a change, a new start.”
There are no hard feelings for Coleby when it comes to Ole Miss.
“For the most part I was pretty sad about (leaving Ole Miss),” Coleby said. “I was sad knowing that they recruited me in high school and I had two years in already so I had that connection with them.”
But he knew it was time to move on, so Coleby opened his recruitment back up after deciding to leave Ole Miss, but this time around he only remembers one school in particular that recruited him.
“I just remember I talked to Kansas for the first time and that was it,” Coleby said.
The illustrious history of Kansas basketball is something Coleby was all too familiar with, since his brother played at Wichita State for a period of time. Being exposed to the Sunflower State was one of the reasons Coleby chose to play for the Jayhawks.
“The history (of the program), the history of the school, the system that they run and the coaches,” Coleby said of why he chose KU.
The coach who recruited Coleby to Kansas was assistant coach Kurtis Townsend. Townsend, a coach who was instrumental in recruiting future NBA players and Jayhawk stars such as Andrew Wiggins, Ben McLemore and Darrell Arthur, is a friend of Coleby’s old high school coach, coach Sears.
A long-time mentor of Coleby’s, Sears gave Townsend a call when he began thinking about leaving Ole Miss.
“(Sears) gave me a call and told me (Dwight) was thinking about leaving Ole Miss if we would be interested in him,” Townsend said. “So we went and watched film and coach Self thought that he would be a good guy to sit out and learn the system and still have two years to play.”
After Kansas began to show interest in him, Coleby decided to take a visit to see what it means to be a Jayhawk. Walking into Allen Fieldhouse for the first time, Coleby got to see the championship banners, the retired jerseys and experience the history.
“I got to see all of the other players and saw how far they made it,” Coleby said.
It was no surprise when Coleby wanted to be a part of something bigger than him, and he committed on the spot during his visit in May of 2015.
Coleby had finally made it. He was officially a part of one of the premier basketball programs in the country. His plan was to learn under the tutelage of head coach Bill Self and play with some of the best basketball players in the NCAA.
That was the plan, but unfortunately it had to change. An ACL tear requires a lengthy recovery, so Coleby remained on the sidelines during workouts and practices for the entirety of the 2015-16 season.
“It was tough because I had a plan when I transferred to really get better and compete against Perry (Ellis) and the rest of the guys,” Coleby said. “But things happen, and God puts you in a situation that you have to fight through and that’s what I had to do and stay positive.”
After his surgery, Coleby had to get through rehab. He stressed how important it was to stay positive.
“I had to keep staying positive, because every day was a battle and a fight,” Coleby said. “There is so much negativity in your mind you just have to block it out and fight through it, because you don’t feel good every day.”
After going through a series of physical and body tests, Coleby was officially cleared to play.
“When I took the tests and they told me I was good to go, it was a happy moment,” Coleby said. “It was just like ‘Finally.'”
Finally, it was Coleby’s time to become an active member of the team and start making an impact on the 2016-17 season. After coming back from injury, look for his immediate success to come defensively and on the boards. After all, in his final season at Ole Miss, Coleby was second on the team in blocked shots and third on the team in rebounds.
“I’m defensive. A defensive player, “Coleby said. “Rebounding and blocking shots, that’s what I’ll be.”
Coleby sees his role on this Kansas team, which features five big men including returners Bragg Jr., and Lucas, as well as two freshmen, Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, as someone who does some of the things that may go unnoticed by the average basketball fan.
“I just want to be moving the ball, setting screens, whatever helps the team,” Coleby said. “If they need me to get a bucket, I will get a bucket, but other than that I will do whatever else it takes to help.”
Fellow big man, senior Lucas, a senior from Portland, Oregon has his own take about what Coleby brings to the Jayhawks
“He brings a lot of strength and experience,” Lucas said. “He is a guy who played in a big-time conference (SEC) and understands what it is like to play in big games.”
KU is a hotbed for future NBA talent, and Coleby would like to add himself to the long list of NBA players that have come through Lawrence. He compares himself to Zach Randolph and a fellow Dwight namesake, Dwight Howard, both of whom have accrued many NBA accolades and are both prolific rebounders and defenders. All three boast similar height and build.
Coleby, who had to leave his parents and younger siblings behind in the Bahamas when he moved to Mississippi to pursue a basketball career, found at KU what he had been missing ever since he left home.
“We are all a family,” Coleby said. “They all took me in pretty quickly. We all take pride in what we do here. That is what I like about this team the most.”
A voyage. That is what one can describe Dwight Coleby’s life so far. After leaving the tropical islands of the Bahamas, moving to the heart of Mississippi and starting his collegiate career at Ole Miss, he continued on a journey and search for another new place to call home. And as all Kansans know, as well as Coleby does now, there is no place like home.