By Marc Raimondi
Cori Coleman understands just how big the shoes are that she has to fill. Four starters return this season for defending 11-time PSAL city champion Murry Bergtraum and she’s not one of them.
Coleman’s task is to replace star guard Shanee Williams, the leading scorer from the team that beat South Shore at Madison Square Garden last year.
“It’s a lot to handle,” Coleman said. “But you gotta deal with it.”
Early indications are that she’s dealing with it just fine. Coleman is averaging a team-best 13 points per game in league play and dropped 23 points, including four 3-pointers, on Colorado powerhouse Regis Jesuit on Monday night. With the junior in the starting lineup, Bergtraum hasn’t missed a beat.
“Over the summer, she built up a lot of guts,” Lady Blazers senior guard CeCe Dixon said. “She came here in the preseason ready to ball.”
Coleman said she was shy and timid at times as a sophomore, looking for her niche on a team filled with championship-seasoned veterans. A big summer with the Bronx-based New Heights AAU program boosted her confidence and improved her all-around game. Coleman was always an exceptional long-range shooter, but now her handle is better, she’s stronger and her defense is a plus.
“I think she’s the most underrated player in the city,” Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky said.
Grezinsky has stressed since the preseason that comparisons between Coleman and Williams are unfair, that they’re two different players. Coleman has bought into it.
“I’m just trying to be the best I can be,” she said. “I’m just trying to be me.”
Coleman doesn’t need to be a star on a team rife with talent. She doesn’t have to force shots. Actually, she has faded into the background, because she isn’t well known. With mainstays Dixon, Doris Ortega and DePaul-bound Shukurah Washington, that isn’t difficult.
“She’s like the X-factor for us,” Ortega said. “A lot of teams don’t really look for her.”
Coleman’s emergence isn’t just important for the Lady Blazers now. The experience she gains this season will be invaluable for next year when Dixon, Ortega and Washington are gone. The pressure of being Williams’ successor will be nothing compared to what she could experience as a senior, hoping to keep Bergtraum’s historic title streak alive.
“We told her, ‘This is gonna be your team next year,’” Ortega said. “As a starter, now you gotta step up.”
She’s answered every call so far. Coleman is one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the city and has evolved into a pure scorer. Most of it is on the mental level. That timid sophomore who came off the bench for the Lady Blazers last year is in the rear-view mirror. It’s almost like Coleman is a completely different player.
“I broke out of that,” she said.
And she’s in the midst of a breakout season.