Shameil Coleman used to sit quietly in team meetings, never sharing her thoughts, never speaking a word.
As far as her teammates at Cal State Long Beach are concerned, those were the good old days.
“As an underclassman, when we had a meeting, (Coach) Joan (Bonvicini) would look around and say to people, ‘You have to work on your offense, you have to work on your defense . . . and Shameil, you have to work on your attitude,’ ” Coleman said.
Which means what, exactly?
“I was a crybaby. I was a bully. I wanted to have my own way all the time,” she said. “I didn’t always say anything, but I was mad. I had a lot of growing up to do. I feel I’m mature and can take it now.”
She can take it and she can dish it, too.
“Shameil used to bite her tongue at one time,” said Brenda Coleman, an older sister. “Now she doesn’t bite her tongue for anyone.”
If Coleman continues on pace, she will probably be the most vocal of the 49ers when seventh-ranked Long Beach plays host to a second-round game in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. women’s basketball tournament. Long Beach will meet St. Joseph’s at 2 p.m. today in the university gym.
Coleman, 21, is having her best collegiate season, averaging 12 points a game. But her season has also been marked by a dramatic change in attitude. It’s a mixed blessing: No longer does Coleman pout, but, as one of the team’s four seniors, she’s on a mission to bring her team to the Final Four at Tacoma, Wash. That means calling team meetings and offering plenty of encouragement to the younger players.
“As seniors, we have to take our rights,” she said, attempting to describe the often delicate state of relationships on a team. “We say, ‘Look, you have to follow us, we know what we are doing.’ We want them to try to realize that everything we are saying is for their own good.”
It has worked well so far. Long Beach has won 21 consecutive games, and Coleman, who last week was named to the Big West all-tournament team, has been a factor. With scorers such as Penny Toler and Traci Waites on the team, Coleman has been quiet statistically, but not otherwise.
“Oh yes, she talks in the locker room,” said Lisa Reslock, a sophomore forward. “But they (seniors) are not saying things in a bad way. They are trying to get the best out of the team.”
On the court, Coleman adds a physical dimension to the 49ers’ fast-break offense. She’s also the team’s fastest player.
“Shameil can outrun us, baseline to baseline, any time of the day,” Waites said.
Coleman used to play with a knee brace on which she wrote, “Catch me if you can.”
Bonvicini calls Coleman the team’s best athlete. Yet, even though Coleman was a standout at Fairfax High School, Bonvicini almost didn’t offer her a scholarship.
JoAnn Heller, then the Fairfax girls’ basketball coach, first saw Coleman as she stood in line to register for 10th grade. “I asked her if she played basketball,” Heller said. “She said, ‘I guess so.’ I said, ‘You’re playing.’ ”
Although she had not played basketball seriously, Coleman quickly adapted to the game. But Fairfax’s was a high-powered program, and it took Coleman time to emerge. She came to Fairfax at a time when Dora Dome, who would go on to star at UCLA, was the team leader. As always, Coleman wanted to play and was vocal when she was relegated to the bench.
“When Shameil was a junior, Dora was the star of the team,” Heller said. “We had some kids who didn’t want to work as hard as Shameil wanted them to. She got very frustrated. One day she came into my office and announced, ‘I’m quitting.’ She walked out and was going to take the bus home, but I drove her home, and she and her mother and I talked for about four hours. She didn’t quit.”
Just as she would four years later, Mary Coleman counseled her daughter to have patience. “I told her she had to earn her spot,” she said. In her senior year, Coleman finally grew into her potential. She was selected the City 3-A player of the year and set a City record by averaging 31.8 points a game. Coleman also averaged 19 rebounds, six steals and five assists.
Yet few college teams came calling. Long Beach first noticed Coleman at Bonvicini’s summer camp, where Coleman was named MVP one year. The 49ers’ recruiter, Michael Abraham, began to get phone calls.
“Long Beach had no interest in her at all.” Heller said. “I had to sell her. I called Michael all the time. I told him, ‘You are going to miss out if you don’t take this child.’ They got a bargain.”
The bargain evolved when Karon Howell, a Portland, Ore., high school star, chose USC over Long Beach and Bonvicini had a scholarship to offer. “We’re glad we did,” she said.
Coleman’s up-front personality appears to have been cultivated at home, where all the Coleman siblings were encouraged to speak up.
“When she was little, she would storm out and slam the door,” Brenda Coleman said. “We tried to instill in her, if you have something to say, say it. We don’t believe you can be penalized for an opinion.”
After three tough years at Long Beach, Coleman finally broke through as a starter this season. That struggle may have caused some early season problems.
“I was putting too much pressure on myself,” she said. “When I had the ball, I wanted to do everything with it. It just wasn’t there.”
Bonvicini called Coleman in last week to talk about it, saying Coleman should relax and play. But Coleman can’t help thinking that, as a senior, the next game could be her last.
“I keep thinking, I’m not really leaving something, I’m going on to something better,” Coleman said. “This program will always be a part of me. I hope I’m a part of it always. As a senior, it makes each game that much more important.”
Coleman has received unconditional support from her family, especially her mother and her sister Brenda. Both have gone with Long Beach to the past two Final Fours and both have attended every home game this season. In fact, Mary Coleman took a year’s leave of absence from her job in order to follow the team.
So confident are Coleman’s relatives that the team will again make it to the Final Four, they have their tickets and hotel reservations made.
“My suitcase is out and ready,” Mary Coleman said.
Long Beach (28-4) is making its eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
The 49ers are led by Penny Toler, who is averaging 21 points per game. Traci Waites is the second-leading scorer with 16 points.
St. Joseph’s (23-7) advanced by beating Vanderbilt, 82-68, in the first round.
In that game, the Hawks were led by senior forward Kim Foley , who had 35 points and 13 rebounds.
Dale Hodges is the team’s leading scorer for the season, averaging 23 points. She also averages 11.3 rebounds.