By Ken Foxworth
“I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humanity and his integrity.” — Dr. Frank Wilderson, University of Minnesota V.P.
It is rare when you hear African American males describe about another male using these words: hero, honest, role model, mentor, integrity and most importantly, how he loved his community. One man spoken of in this way was named Ben Coleman; he passed away January 6, 2019.
People often think and talk about the negative things coming from Minneapolis North, but it is past time for us to talk about some of the good things. The first scholarship athlete at the University of Minnesota who graduated from North High School (aka Minneapolis North) was a football player named Richard Armstrong in 1976. The first basketball scholarship student-athlete from Minneapolis North was Ben Coleman.
One of Coleman’s greatest fans is Dr. Michael Favor, Football Hall of Fame All-American from North Dakota State University, former principal of Minneapolis North, and present principal of Southwest High School in Minneapolis. He said, “As an African American male growing up on the North Side, Ben Coleman was one of many of my heroes.
“Ben is and was a hero to me not only for his success at North High School, college, and in the pros. He was that hero that we could reach out to, so proud of his Minnesota roots and constantly giving back to so many,” Favor said.
Although my passion was football, I attended the Ben Coleman Basketball Camps because I wanted to be like Ben — a successful student athlete, an entrepreneur, and someone who was fully committed to giving back to the North Side community. I am truly thankful to have had Ben Coleman in my life. I offer my condolences to his family and friends and thank them for allowing Ben to be part of my life.
When Coleman came to the University of Minnesota in 1979-81, he was with some of the school’s greatest basketball players: Gary Cookie Holme, Mark Hall, Trent Tucker, Randy Brewers, Jim Peterson. His roommate Zebedee Howell was one of his closest friends on the team. Four of his teammates also played for the NBA.
Holme said, “Coleman was a great guy to be with on and off the court. His personality and his love for the game was always there. I was stunned that he always talked about North High School and how that was an important tool to go back and help his community.”
When Coleman transferred to the University of Maryland he did not know what to expect, but the fans and the coaches loved him. One of the sportswriters, Don Markus from The Baltimore Sun, wrote, “Had he spent four years at Maryland rather than just two, Ben Coleman’s name might appear on the school’s list of all-time scorers and rebounders. Instead he is in the record books as the player with the second-highest shooting percentage behind Buck Williams.
“Had Coleman spent his entire college career as a Terp [Terrapin] rather than transferring in as a junior following two seasons with his hometown Minnesota Gophers, Lefty Driesell might have won another ACC tournament title — maybe an NCAA title — with the 6’-9” forward’s help.
“As it was,” said Markus, “Driesell’s only ACC tournament championship in his 17 seasons came during Coleman’s senior year in 1983-84 when he and rising sophomore star Len Bias shared team-high scoring honors at 15.3 points. Coleman led the Terps in rebounding.”
“Ben was there for just two years, but he’s a true Terrapin,’ said former Maryland star Adrian Branch, who played three years with Coleman and later was a teammate of his and Williams with the New Jersey Nets.
It was incredible that Coleman was drafted in the 1984 second round for the Chicago Bulls while in the first round was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, who played for North Carolina. Coleman played European League Basketball as well as for the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, and the Detroit Pistons.
After his professional career was over, Coleman became involved in his community by teaching and showing others how to become entrepreneurs and philanthropists. He truly believed and practiced what the Bible says: “If you give a man a fish he will live for one day, but if you teach a man to fish he will live a lifetime.”
To the Honorable Ben Coleman, thank you for teaching us how to fish! You were truly, truly a great man with a great legacy indeed.
This article originally appeared in Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.