It was 5:02 p.m. in a near empty Carrier Dome and Dajuan Coleman was already sweating.The back of his neck was slippery. His gray, dry-fit warmup shirt was soaked to a darker shade. At a break in a drill, with the sound of his power dribble still echoing off the stadium’s ceiling, Coleman grabbed a towel and dried his skin to stop sweat from reaching the ball in his hands.He then took the white rag and pressed it against his face. When he lowered it he paused to look at the silver bleachers, bustling ushers and his teammates warming up at the other end of the floor. All familiar but at one time fleeting.“Come on, Dajuan. Let’s go. Back at it,” SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins barked at him.Coleman had just two more hours, before the Orange’s first scrimmage against Le Moyne on Nov. 2, to shake off a little more rust. He hadn’t played against a live opponent since Jan. 7, 2014, yet here he was. He snapped back into his pregame routine and started sweating some more.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textI just wanted to get out there and get going.Dajuan ColemanAfter the exhibition winThree falls ago, Coleman’s college career was setting down a storybook-like path. He starred at nearby Jamesville-Dewitt (New York) High School, was named a McDonald’s All-American as a senior and made the short trip to Syracuse with compelling potential in tow. It wasn’t a matter of if he’d excel at center for the Orange. It was a matter of when.But his left knee had other plans. A torn meniscus led to Coleman’s first surgery in January of his freshman year. He was healthy again at the start of the next season until a bruise sustained in practice led to another surgery, one year later, to repair cartilage in the same knee. And so began his second rehab in as many years, which seeped into the next season and made sitting out all of 2014–15 the best option for his future.Now Coleman could be the difference between Syracuse competing in the postseason or living up to the zero votes it received for the preseason Associated Press poll. His comeback has inspired his teammates. His time off gave him a chance to observe the Orange’s offense and defense. He’s the unlikely anchor of a thin centers group, even if his experience is measured in perspective instead of games played.,“You want to win for him just because of how much he’s had to sit out and what’s he’s been through and stuff like that,” Michael Gbinije, SU’s senior starting point guard, said. “Hopefully he’ll continue to stay healthy, and if he does I think we’ll be good.”In the extensive time he’s spent with Coleman, Brad Pike has only once heard him complain about pain. It was a few days after his second surgery in January 2014, an osteochondral autograft transfer procedure that moved cartilage from a non-weight bearing part of his left knee to where the cartilage was damaged.Pike, who heads SU’s sports medicine department and works with the men’s basketball team, met with Coleman in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center and they started with a small but practical task.Before doing anything, and even thinking about rehabbing his knee, Coleman had to learn to use crutches in the snow.“I think that told him, right away, that it wasn’t going to be a short process,” Pike said. “But he listened to everything we said. If we told him you’re not going to do a certain task until a certain day, he said, ‘Ok.’ But he always followed with, ‘But you better believe I’ll be on schedule.’”,Coleman was non-weight bearing for eight weeks and partial-weight bearing for another four. In those three months, Pike’s goal was to keep Coleman eating healthy so he didn’t gain any weight. Then they slowly put weight on his left leg. Then came exercises to regain his range of motion. Then they started lifting to build muscle and, in time, Coleman was nose-deep in another rehab and seeing Pike seven days a week.To motivate Coleman, Pike set weekly goals. Reaching them became all Coleman cared about, so much that he didn’t find time, in a year and a half, to add to the collection of tattoos on his body.And he didn’t need to. The lion tattoo covering his forearm, as far as Pike could see, already said it all.“He just never quit. I would always look at that lion and think, ‘That’s Dajuan. He’s just a lion,’” Pike said. “Every day, his attitude never changed in here. He brought it every day.”Pike added that he always expected Coleman’s recovery to run into last season, and it never “would have been smart” for him to play. He was jumping and cutting well last winter, but his knee still ached when he ran up and down the floor. So he continued to work on building strength in his knee and, by May, the lingering pain was gone.When Coleman first started playing in pickup scrimmages again, the knee was in the back of his mind. But he also noticed something different.Two years watching Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita play the center in the 2-3 zone translated to a better understanding of the slides he needed to make. When he got the ball on the block, he could sense when a shooter was open in the corner or when a second defender was coming to double team him. When guards penetrated, he instinctually slid into open space and scored easy buckets at the rim.By the end of the summer, he stopped thinking about his knee altogether. He also felt like a new player capable of new things.Obviously two years you’re rusty. Tiger Woods took six months off and he couldn’t play anymore. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to happen overnight.Jim BoeheimSU head coachAt the onset of the 2015–16 season, there’s no telling if Coleman will ever reach the potential he had three years ago. The thick, vertical scar that cuts down the middle of his left knee could be the symbol of a perpetually disappointing career. Or it could symbolize the climax of what’s already been an improbable comeback.The Orange is best when Coleman is on the court, manning the middle of the zone and drawing attention in paint, and he worked for nearly two straight years to make sure he could be there.It took resolve. It took grit. It took sweat. A whole lot of sweat.And now it’s back to basketball.“In the past I’d sometimes think to myself that I was sore, or tired, or frustrated,” Coleman said. “But I don’t think about that stuff now because I’m playing again. I mean, I’m really playing again.” Comments Published on November 12, 2015 at 8:12 am Contact Jesse: [email protected] | @dougherty_jesse,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.