Heading into his senior season at Rocky Mountain High School, Tanner Coleman knew he’d have to step up his game to make his mark on the team.
The Grizzlies were coming off a successful campaign the season before, losing in the State 2A Championship game, 69-53, to Wyoming Indian. Coleman was a role player on that squad, with an eye toward a starting spot his senior year.
“I really enjoyed the kids I played high school ball with,” Coleman said.
A 6’0” shooting guard, the Deaver native would go on to average 15 points a game in his final prep season.
“Going into the state tournament my senior year, I was playing OK,” Coleman said. “But the first couple of games of the tournament, I played way better than I had my whole career.”
He led the 21-6 Griz back to the state title game and caught the eye of Northwest College men’s basketball coach Brian Erickson.
“We recruited him right out of high school,” Erickson said. “He would work with the team, and we kind of followed him his senior year and ended up signing him. He shoots the ball well, and he’s really, really athletic. The thing for him was just geting bigger and stronger.”
Coleman already had ties to NWC, as his dad Steve is an assistant coach for the Lady Trappers program. During his senior year, the younger Coleman would scrimmage regularly with the Trappers, where he got to know Erickson better.
“I really enjoyed working with him [Erickson] — especially with him putting so much time in with me as a senior in high school,” Coleman said. “Watching the program, I just felt like it was a really good fit for me.”
Being close to home was also an attraction as Coleman weighed his college options, but in the end, it came down to the coach.
“Being so close to home so I could be with my family was important,” Coleman explained. “But Coach Erickson was probably the main reason why I chose here.”
That said, having his father close by to provide support has also been a memorable experience.
“All through high school, my dad traveled to watch me play,” Coleman said. “Now that I’m in college and he coaches at the same one I play at has been special. He was definitely my basketball inspiration growing up.”
Coleman redshirted the 2015-2016 season “so I got really into the program, working on getting into the swing of things,” he said.
“Last year, I did get playing time. Not a whole lot, but it really helped me transition into it [playing at the collegiate level],” Coleman said. “Now being a third year guy, I feel like I know the program and what coach wants, and I’m anxious to get back into it.”
He’s hoping to make an impact in his final season with the Trappers.
Coleman said the difference between high school and college is almost night and day.
“The intensity is way higher,” he said. “It’s a different game. The athleticism, the skill level and talent is just on a higher level. Getting playing time at this level is really cool to me. In high school I didn’t think I was going to go on and play, so to be given this opportunity is just really cool.”
For his hard work and dedication to the program, Erickson made Coleman a captain for the 2017-2018 season. Calling him a “vocal leader,” Erickson said he expects Coleman to provide a spark and keep the team on track.
“He’s earned it just for the time he’s put in and buying into the program,” Erickson said of naming him captain. “He’s a really good kid. He’s a culture guy, he’s really helped us over the last couple of years to build that culture. He’s a great example and a leader.”
It’s been an eventful preseason for Coleman so far — and not in a good way; he hyperextended his knee at a recent practice, an injury that will sideline him for the first few games.
“They’re trying to get me back for the Thanksgiving tournament,” Coleman said. “So maybe a month; we’ll see how it goes.”
Erickson said the injury gave him a bit of a scare, as you never want to see a player go down to injury in their final season.
“He’s put so much time in, he deserves to play his last year, to be a part of it, and then that happens,” Erickson said. “Luckily he just sprained it. We’re looking at 10 days to two weeks and he should be back 100 percent. He has an opportunity to play; he shoots it so well. But whether he’s playing or not, I know he’ll always be a good teammate. I’m excited at getting him back just for his leadership on the floor.”
As for being named a captain, Coleman said he’s honored.
“It actually means a lot,” Coleman said. “Coming from being a redshirt to going into my third year for them, putting that trust in me and wanting me to be a captain and a leader is huge. I think being a third-year guy, knowing the program is going to help a lot.”
Asked how the season is shaping up, Coleman — who says he’s “definitely vocal” — said it’s going to take a bit of time to get everyone on the same page and to buy into the process.
“I think when that happens, we’ll be a really good team,” he said. “We have a lot of athletic guys that can play well.”