From being an assistant coach at Illinois for four years to the big stage here at Kentucky, Ronald “Chin” Coleman needs no introduction.
Coleman joined the Kentucky staff in the summer of 2021 along with the return of Orlando Antigua.
And as for how he got the nickname “Chin," he says he got it playing in the schoolyards in Chicago.
“I guess my chin was really accentuated with my face and kids started calling me 'Chin,' and it’s stuck with me like the blue body plague,” he said.
Coleman explained that being from the Southside of Chicago, he thought he had reached his dream coaching at Illinois.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to dream bigger,” Coleman said. “The decision to come down to Kentucky, I mean it’s Kentucky. This is the Camelot of basketball.”
Coleman described himself as a competitor: a person who is in tune with his craft and wants to be one of the best. To do that, he has to align himself with the best, he said.
“This is the highest level, the opportunity to work for coach Calipari was a dream come true to me,” Coleman continued. “This was a bigger dream, and I’m loving the experience and the opportunity to learn from Coach Calipari and work with [him]. To be here at Kentucky is the ultimate accomplishment for me in coaching.”
While coaching at Illinois, Coleman worked closely with Ayo Dosunmu, who was selected by the Chicago Bulls in the 2021 NBA draft with the 38th pick. Coleman said it’s always a proud moment.
“He and I have a unique relationship and to see him doing what he’s doing right now it’s no shock to me because he worked extremely hard,” Coleman shared.
Coleman recently celebrated his birthday back home in Chicago where Dosunmu was in attendance and gifted Coleman a signed jersey with little notes he wrote such as “I couldn’t do it without you” and “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“It’s very heartfelt to see him doing what he’s doing. He was starting for the Bulls, and he’s second-team all-rookie in the NBA.” Although Coleman wants no credit for that, he said. “Getting better is internal, coaching is external. From an external standpoint, I gave him everything I had. But him doing what he’s doing is all him.”
The transition from Illinois to Kentucky was a big adjustment, Coleman said.
“This is the biggest show here. This place is on steroids. The fanbase is unbelievable. They’re so invested that it is a gift and a curse," he said.
He explained the fanbase is so invested that the media and public relations aspect is quite different because of the "fishbowl" they’re in. As for basketball, it's two different leagues and two different kinds of players.
“I mean, this is a place that produces NBA players every year. We’re going to have two [TyTy Washington Jr. and Shaedon Sharpe] in the first round this year. It’s on average two or three a year, so that’s different," Coleman explained. “Illinois, the pros that were there, I was involved in recruiting them. Kofi Cockburn — Kofi was actually at my party too. I was involved in bringing Kofi and Ayo to Illinois.”
Coleman added it’s different in terms of dynamics, but the basketball is all relevant. It’s competitive, at a higher level, at a different pace and different style, but those are adjustments you make within the game.
“I’m fortunate to be sitting at the round table with Coach Calipari,” he said.
This past season, Coleman worked closely with guards TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler.
“I’m one of those guys that when I train, I’m not training for health. We’re not wasting time. We’re training to transfer it over to the game. It has to carry over,” Coleman said. “Some kids are so robotic that their training is at a pace where they can’t transfer it to the game.”
Washington and Wheeler are both players that take and learn and transfer over to the game. Coleman said it’s enlightening to see as a coach.
“TyTy is going to make this next step, he’s prepared. I talked to an NBA guy about him
today, he’s ready. He’s picking up that work that he needs to put his foot on the gas,” Coleman said.
Wheeler, however, is coming back for another year at Kentucky.
“I plan on spending a ton of time with Sahvir again this season, and he’ll have a great season. Which means we’ll have a better season. We had a great season, we just didn’t end how we wanted it to. It won’t end like that again for us, that’s for sure,” he said.
Coleman explained what sets him apart from other coaches is his ability to relate to the players because he has been in their shoes. As Coleman put it, he keeps his "ear to the streets" to know of the things they’re going through and what they’re into. Coleman is someone they can come to and hear "the real" instead of the coach’s spiel.
“As a coach, you want them to take on some of your personality, but it comes with time ... you have to spend time with these kids otherwise you’re just a coach,” Coleman said. “They trust me, and they know I’m coming from the right place.”
The hardest part of the job at Kentucky is the media, Coleman said, which includes making sure he says the right thing because they’re under such scrutiny. It’s happened a couple of times already where the media has taken something he said and made it something different, according to Coleman.
“You always have to mind your pints and quarts, your Ps and Qs," Coleman said. "The job isn’t hard because I love this job. When you do something that you love doing, it’s not a job. A job is nothing but work. I don’t look at it like that, this is something that I’m passionate about. Working hard at the job is a passion.”
Coleman had one word to describe Big Blue Nation: incredible. More specifically, the presence of the fans, everywhere they go. His daughter got a kick out of the "Drippy Chin" Fathead carried by fans during the season, he said laughing.
“When you heard our fans in the Kansas arena, when I saw that, I knew it was real. I was like 'This is it for me to know that the fans are unbelievable,' the support is unbelievable," Coleman said. "They love their Kentucky Basketball team. They live it. They’re fully invested. It goes on for generations and generations and generations. They live this just as hard as we live it."
The Kansas game was Coleman’s favorite moment of the season.
“You don’t go into that fieldhouse and do what we did in terms of performance. It was a dominating performance. That just doesn’t happen," he said.
The Cats blew out the Jayhawks by 18 points.
Coleman reflected on the two teams in the National Championship this year: North Carolina and Kansas, whom the Wildcats beat by a combined 47 points earlier in the season.
“Fate ended up being, and we became part of a Cinderella story," Coleman said. "That happens every once in 16 years. We’ll be top three, top five in the country again next year and we’ll be more concentrated so we don’t allow for the energy of fate to intervene again.”
Coach Calipari has been ahead of the game when it comes to name, image and likeness. Coleman said Calipari is the trailblazer regarding NIL.
NIL is continuing to change, and it’s not done changing until there is some rope put around it, some boundaries, he said.
Coleman said all of the players benefit from NIL, not just one or two.
“We’re probably the one team that eight, nine players are benefitting from NIL. Coach Calipari, our university, our athletic director Mitch Barnhart and all those guys have a good understanding of how this works. As long as Coach Calipari is the forward thinker that he is, we’ll continue to be ahead of the game on the NIL,” he said.
With the help of NIL, we’re seeing more players return to play at the college level.
“Four out of the five starters at North Carolina all came back. I think that you saw that with our team. Oscar Tshiebwe, the unanimous national player of the year, decided to come back," Coleman said. "Now though, a lot of universities, coaches and schools have to deal with what Coach Calipari has been successful at doing for 13 years: coaching a new team every year.”
Although this year is different, he said. “Last year, we had some veterans on it, and now we have a good group of our kids coming back this year. That’s different for us and Coach Cal, and I think he’s enjoying that.”
Earlier in April, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale spoke out against the transfer portal, claiming athletes lack loyalty and the portal allows them to quit.
“I’m not at that level to have a true opinion. There are situations where it's used and some situations where it's misused. I’m not for the misuse of it, but the use of it is beneficial to some kids. So, the kids that benefit from it, good for them,” Coleman said. “I can’t be against it. Sahvir Wheeler was a transfer, Davion Mintz, Kellan Grady and Oscar Tshiebwe. It benefitted those kids and the University of Kentucky and our basketball program.”
This upcoming season, Kentucky is adding Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves along with incoming freshman recruits Chris Livingston, Cason Wallace and Adou Thiero.
“These guys will all be impactful. We’re really excited about all of them. All three of them [Reeves, Livingston, and Wallace] are pro-potential guys, and they’re coming to help our program," Coleman said. “We’re excited for Adou and his ability to learn and get better. The kid grew 6-7 inches, and he’s continuing to grow, so we’ll see where that goes. It’s always exciting when you get something new. It’s like you’re playing with new toys.”
Coleman has made a statement this season with his fashion. He said fashion has always been a thing in his family.
“It’s very expensive, so I don’t really try to push it on anybody. I enjoy it, I have a good eye for fashion,” he said.
Anybody can do a blue suit, a gray suit or a black suit, he explained. He’s all about stepping outside of the box and playing with colors.
“Being a haberdasher is across the board. That’s why it’s expensive — your athletic gear, your sneakers, your dress shoes and then your suits, your casual outfits, your streetwear," Coleman said. "I play in all those different lanes when it's time to play in all those different lanes. I study it a little bit, but not as much as I study basketball.”
Coleman’s derby outfit made its way to Twitter, with fans commenting that "it’s just another day" for him.
“So, the derby outfit, I mean that’s for the derby, that’s not particularly for a game. I had fun with that outfit. I had the hat made," he said. "Obviously, all of my stuff is tailored. I had that blazer made with the buttons that matched the hat. You can really be expressive at the derby, but I keep it classy."
Like the entire Big Blue Nation, Coleman and the team are disappointed they didn’t achieve their goal this past season.
“You’re at the University of Kentucky to win a national championship. We had a great season, but it wasn’t good enough. We want to be better on all parts of the ball," he said. "I hold myself accountable for a lot of things that I think I could’ve done better. I’m committed to doing better, our staff is committed to being better and Coach Calipari is committed to doing a better job."
Looking ahead, Coleman said “we’re here for a goal and our goal is to capture number nine. I think we will do that. I truly believe that and that’s why I came here and that’s the goal. We want to be better in everything.”
His advice to anyone wanting to go into the sports industry is to be consistent in getting better and learning. Never be the person that says "I can’t" he said, but rather, the person who says "I might not be able to do it right now, but I will be able to accomplish it at some point."
As for Coleman ever seeing himself as a head coach, “absolutely,” he said. He’s confident when the time comes, he’ll be ready and prepared.
“I’m getting prepared now. I’m working for the best coach in college basketball history. I know for a fact I’m in the right place and it’s just a matter of time. It’s not if it's when," he said.
Until then, Coleman is all in with Kentucky.
“I look forward to that opportunity when it comes, but right now, I’m fully committed to what I have to do for the University of Kentucky," he said.