By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A former Minneapolis North basketball star, who also played for the Gophers, died Sunday at the age of 57.

When you mention Ben Coleman, his former University of Minnesota teammate Trent Tucker immediately talks about his talent on the hardwood.

“He was a great guy to be around,” Tucker said. “He was a fun guy to be around; he was a great teammate to have. He was one of the first power forwards that could step away and knock down the 15 to 18 foot jump shot and also he played very well with his back to the basket.”

Coleman played for the Gophers from 1979-1981. His best year was 1980, averaging more than eight points a game.

He then transferred to Maryland, and was drafted into the league in 1984.

Coleman was the first North High School basketball player to earn a Division 1 scholarship. He was also the first to play in the NBA.

Ben Coleman (credit: CBS)

North High basketball coach Larry McKenzie says Coleman set the example for other North High and Minneapolis City Conference players to follow.

“Ben Coleman was the first,” McKenzie said. “He opened that door.”

More importantly, he never forgot his roots.

“Twelve years a professional basketball player. When he was done with is career, he came back here. He owned a restaurant downtown for a number of years,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie says Coleman was proud to be from the north side of Minneapolis, and he helped the program that made him a pro.

“When I first got the job at North, I remember [he said], ‘Coach, if you need me to come by,’ you know, do anything that you asked him to do,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie says Coleman leaves behind a legacy of excellence and he uses his life journey as a example for his student athletes to follow.

Coleman was the first black player from the Minneapolis City Conference to play for the Gophers. His nephews, Joe and Dan Coleman, also played at the U.

Reg Chapman

  1. Bryant Terry says:

    On behalf of the Coleman Family, I would like to thank you for writing this amazing piece on an incredible player and even kinder person. In honor of Ben Coleman, the family has set up a memorial website where visitors can view touchpoints of his incredible life including personal photos, videos, and stories.

    To view this site, visit: