Coming off Illinois’ best season in 16 years in 2020-21 with a final record of 24-7, a Big Ten Tournament Championship, and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Ron “Chin” Coleman had a difficult decision to make this offseason. He could have returned to Brad Underwood’s staff in Champaign and kept the train rolling with the Fighting Illini, or he could have chosen to take a step up and join one of the nation’s blue blood programs, as multiple high-profile offers came through his inbox since the conclusion of the season.
At the end of the day, the opportunity to coach at the University of Kentucky – a “blue chip brand” – was too much to pass up. It ended up being a no-brainer for the Chicago native.
“Let’s be clear, Kentucky basketball is a blue chip brand, right? You’ve got the (New York) Yankees, you’ve got the Dallas Cowboys, you’ve got the Los Angeles Lakers, you’ve got FC Barcelona, and then you’ve got Kentucky basketball. It’s all in the same conversation,” Coleman said in an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio on Tuesday. “When Kentucky basketball calls, that’s a place where players and coaches dream of having an opportunity to be a part of. For me, having the opportunity to be a part of a blue chip brand like Kentucky basketball, it was a no-brainer.
“I thought hard and long about it, but again, with all of the options that I had and great opportunities – I’m blessed to be in the position I was in – but it’s Big Blue Nation. It’s Kentucky basketball, it’s a blue chip brand, and I wanted to be a part of that. I think I made the best decision and I’m still on a natural high right now.”
Part of the draw of Lexington? Learning under Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, someone he has “admired” and “studied” from afar since the beginning of his coaching career.
“We’ve known of each other, knew of each other. But for me, it was from an admiration standpoint,” Coleman told KSR. “I’m a student of the game and witnessing greatness, right? I’m witnessing all of the great things he’s done for our basketball game. I admired from afar and studied from afar. Ultimately, when his two assistants took other jobs, he was looking for a unique skillset. I think I fit the profile of that, and it just so happened I fit alongside another person he needed (in Orlando Antigua), and it happened to work out that way.”
He understood the magnitude of coaching at a school like Kentucky when he walked through the halls of the Joe Craft Center for the first time upon arriving in Lexington. He’s grateful to now be a part of “greatness.”
“When you enter the building, you can see the history,” said Coleman. “You can see why the legacy is legendary, you can see all of the trophies all over the place, all of the championships, you can see the different teams, the unique players that are long gone who played in the NBA. It goes back so far. You’re enamored by how great this place has been and for how long this place has been great. You’re walking in the hallways of greatness, and I’m a part of it now.”
At the time of his first unofficial introduction to the Kentucky fanbase, Coleman promised he would help bring the program “many, many, many more championships” during his time in Lexington, a quote the new assistant coach firmly stands behind. After all, this is Kentucky basketball, a program with title expectations every single year.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) May 6, 2021
“I don’t think I was stretching, I wasn’t fishing. This is Kentucky basketball, this is what they’ve done, this is what they’ve done and this is what everyone’s expecting of Kentucky basketball,” Coleman told KSR. “Hanging banners and championships, deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, having a chance to win a national championship. When you’re at the University of Kentucky, you’ve got to dream big, and that’s the goal.
“We’re going to go out and fight for the chances to do all of that. I think I hit the target.”