‘A great teammate’: As Matt Coleman exits Texas, Shaka Smart reflects on standout guard
Finishing 16th in all-time scoring at UT, Coleman said, “At the end of the day, all I can do is smile and think, ‘Wow I did it.’”
It’s well known that coach Shaka Smart’s dogged pursuit of Matt Coleman III started back in the eighth grade. But Smart revealed Thursday that he wasn’t quite sure the point guard would ever come to Virginia Commonwealth.
Duke wanted Coleman, too. Smart liked his chances to get Coleman to Texas, though.
“I could have been coaching on Mars and we would have tried to recruit him,” Smart told the American-Stateman via phone from his new post at Marquette.
In January 2017, Coleman finally announced his decision on ESPNU — “Hook ’em baby,” he said on national TV. Coleman and Smart became inextricably linked for the next four seasons full of roller-coaster highs and lows in burnt orange.
Smart’s pride was unmistakable as news of Coleman’s decision to go pro spread across the Big 12 landscape. The senior leaves UT ranked third in career games started (128), fourth in assists (477) and 16th in scoring (1,448), not to mention a four-time All-Big 12 honoree and the 2021 league tournament most outstanding player.
“His smile. Positive energy,” Smart said. “A guy that truly got along with everyone. A great teammate.”
Coleman is headed to Houston this weekend to start preparing for the NBA draft after signing with Beyond Athlete Management. He hopes to have a pathway like Monte Morris, a four-year Iowa State guard who spent time in the G League before getting called up with the Denver Nuggets.
He’s also leaving Austin with a UT communications degree with a minor in business.
“It’s a mixture of emotions,” Coleman said in one final interview with UT reporters. “These past couple of days, I’m driving around and just like, wow, I’m truly going to miss this city, miss the relationships with the people I’ve met. I’ll always be a part of the Texas basketball family, but not be a part of it anymore as a student-athlete.
“All those things, all those emotions, all those thoughts just run through your head,” he added. “At the end of the day, I was blessed to be a part of it. I cherish every moment of it. At the end of the day, all I can do is smile and think, ‘Wow I did it.’”
Coleman played a huge role in Texas’ 2019 NIT championship and two NCAA Tournament appearances. He drilled buzzer-beating shots to beat Oklahoma in Norman and North Carolina to win the Maui Invitational, earning him the nickname "Matty Ice."
There were wins and losses, though. His second-best scoring game was putting up 25 points against Nevada in another NCAA first-round loss. Still to this day, Coleman thinks about missing three consecutive free throws in Lubbock as a freshman. Those shots alone would not have beaten coach Chris Beard’s Texas Tech squad. But they came at a critical moment in the Longhorns’ 73-71 overtime loss on Jan. 31, 2018.
“I think that right there is what made me a better basketball player,” Coleman said. “I’ve learned how to handle adversity and challenges when they come my way. That day changed my life.”
Smart said he was always getting on Coleman to be tougher on his own teammates. Finally, Smart said, “I kind of realized that’s just not who he is.” The fierce competitor from Richmond, Va., is unfailingly polite and always smiling.
“I love him, and I think he and I, we went through a lot of twists and turns together,” Smart said. “I’m just grateful that he’s one of the few players, especially in this day and age, that truly was able to look at things through the lens of a coach. I think that’s a real credit to him and his family.
“Sometimes it worked against him,” Smart added. “Sometimes, I know this sounds weird, but he put too much pressure on himself to do well for me and for us. But it was just fun to see him in his senior year playing with so much joy and passion.”
Coleman’s crowing moment was probably in beating Oklahoma State at last season’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. It was a watershed moment for Smart, Coleman and all the Horns as they accomplished a first in UT basketball history.
Smart’s floor general had a career-high 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting against Oklahoma State. He was seen bear-hugging Smart afterward and crying what Coleman called “tears of joy.” It truly was a seminal moment in their journey together.
“Matt Coleman came to Texas with the proverbial ‘800-pound gorilla’ on his back,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said Thursday. “Through thick and thin, he got better and better. His Big 12 title game performance is on a par with what guys like Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford accomplished.”
One week later, the entire Texas basketball community was crushed by an embarrassing debacle against Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAAs. That loss triggered Smart’s decision to leave for Marquette, which led to Beard’s hiring at Texas.
“I just remember how I felt a week before, how my teammates felt, how I felt about my teammates, how I felt about coach, how I felt about the whole city of Austin of that joy that we got from winning a Big 12 championship,” Coleman said, “and never would have thought that I would feel the total opposite a week after that."
Describing the ACU loss, Coleman said after he finished media interviews, “I just ran into the bathroom and I just cried. I slept in my jersey that night. I didn’t shower. I slept for an hour. I just couldn’t believe it. No, I did not want it to end that way, but that’s how the cards fell that day.”
Coleman said “I’m just happy” for what Smart is going to do at his new job at Marquette. “And then I’m happy for coach Beard,” Coleman said. “Both coaches are back home, so that’s exciting.”
Beard said he had been communicating with Coleman “almost on a daily basis.”
“He’s been nothing short of perfect with the respect that he’s shown our staff coming in, as well as the respect that he shown Shaka and those guys,” said Beard, who also thanked Coleman for all that he’s done for Texas basketball.
“I not only respect this decision, but we also support it 100% and we look forward to him continuing to be a big part of Texas basketball,” Beard said. “But now we're excited for his next journey as he turns pro.”