Last Thursday, Duke men's basketball Director of Operations & Player Development Nolan Smith organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Krzyzewskiville. After Smith, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and others took the stage, freshman Henry Coleman III closed out the protest with a powerful speech of his own.
Coleman spoke with reporters over Zoom Monday to discuss that speech, how he's experienced racism throughout his own life, his passions outside of basketball and more. Here are some of the highlights:
On what inspired his speech during the protest:
"I thought it was an unbelievable job by Coach K and Coach Nolan, what they had set up, but I was just moved just to speak for the people that didn't have a voice. My parents told me always just to use my platform. I built this platform. They always tell me, 'You wouldn't build a house and not sleep in it,' and so I just have to use this platform to continue to talk."
On conversations with Coach K and Coach Smith:
"Coach K is a guy [who's] super open. He's always willing to accept change and be with his players. He tells us that every day, that he loves us and that he's thankful for us. So I just think it's that common bond that we share with Coach, that he's almost like a father figure to a lot of us, that he helps us with a lot of different things on and off the court. And then with Coach Smith, he's just a guy that's super relatable, always being able to talk to him, bounce ideas off of [him], whether that be sports, shoes or the protests. He's a great guy."
On racism he's experienced himself:
"My whole life—it's just been micro-aggressions. Nothing to a crazy extent, but it's going to the store and having people follow you around. It's running through the neighborhood and people looking at you a certain way, it's that constant feeling, you go out the door every day, 'Will I make it home?' It's just something that you have to live with, and it's something that a lot of people and a lot of African-Americans around this country have to live with."
On the talks he's had with his parents that he referenced in his speech:
"Just those talks that a lot of people, African-Americans specifically, have to have. That you can't go down the street with your music all loud, you can't wear this certain type of clothing to certain types of events. It's just this persona you have to kind of get used to."
On how the team has bonded through its first month in Durham:
"I told Coach K at the beginning of the season that we're a different group of guys. Everybody has come in hungry, ready to work. We're just different I feel like, to a certain extent. But when those guys came up behind me, it was almost like a security blanket. I just felt like those guys around me—they felt the message with me. Even though they weren't speaking, they showed the whole community that they believed every single word that I was saying and I thought that was a really, really big deal. And I want to touch on the [women's basketball] team did the same thing with Coach [Kara] Lawson speaking. They came up behind her too and they kind of comforted her too, and I thought that was unbelievable. It showed the true brotherhood that we have as not just a men's program but a whole program throughout the whole Duke Athletics."
On the prevalence of Confederate statues in his hometown Richmond, Va.:
"Growing up it was kind of just something that you just have to get used to. It was part of the history. It was something that as a young kid I was explained to, throughout history and history classes, that this was the head of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and it's just something that you kind of really got used to and you got used to seeing. Then when all this stuff happened in around May, it was truly unbelievable to see what they did to that statue. I was speechless. [I knew] a lot of people that were down there and I just thought it was unbelievable and it was a true work of art."
On being a Duke basketball player:
"Words can't describe it. To walk in every day and you see Coach K, one of the best coaches ever—just surreal feeling. You go through the hallway and you see greatness. You see guys like Grant Hill, J.J. Redick, Christian Laettner on the wall and you're finally part of that program and this brotherhood. It's really a surreal feeling."
On who's impressed him the most in practice so far:
"Every time I watch DJ [Steward] shoot the ball. It's funny, we do some shooting competitions together at the end of practice, and it's just like I kind of get five real quick and then DJ gets 10 threes out of nowhere. So it's just unbelievable."
On the steps and actions the team has taken since the Thursday protest:
"I think the media team is doing a great job and kind of pushing our message, showing how easy it is to actually get registered to vote. It was something that I was kind of shocked about—[it] was like five minutes. Dang, it's that easy. So I think just continue to push that perspective and push how easy it is to vote and how much that your vote truly does matter."
On his passions outside of basketball:
"I love to be outdoors. I love to go fishing. I like just being out in nature. One of my favorite authors is Henry David Thoreau—he always preached on being out in nature. So that's one of my favorite things to do."
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