Illinois freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands has been a bright spot for an otherwise frustrating Illinois team that has struggled its way out to an 8-7 record. ESPN 100 ranked Coleman-Lands as the 34th best player in the nation in the class of 2015 and the 2nd in his state. He's 6'4", 185 pounds, and comes from La Lumiere High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Though he injured himself prior to Illinois' first game of the season, Jalen Coleman-Lands has since sprung to life as a "go-to shooter" for the Fighting Illini. Whenever they need a bucket, he's ready to fire from three point range. There's no doubt that he has the capacity to grow and become more of a dynamic player as well.
Jalen Coleman-Lands currently leads Illinois in three point shooting percentage and three pointers made. He's knocked down 36 of his 85 attempts on the season (42.4%). One of the most important characteristics of good shooters is coming up in the clutch. The ability to knock down outside jumpers in key moments is what separates good players from great players. Coleman-Lands certainly has this clutch factor, even as a freshman. He knocked down a game-winning three pointer from the corner to beat Chicago State back in early November. Yeah, it was Chicago State, but it's still clutch.
He's also proven the ability to make some key shots on the road against good opponents. The freshman went 5 of 7 from behind the arc in a 59-60 loss to Providence at the beginning of the year. His smooth stroke gave Illinois a chance to walk out of Rhode Island with a huge win. In Illinois' most recent 73-75 loss to Ohio State, Coleman-Lands went 4 of 8 from long range; once again, some key three pointers helped keep the Illini in the game. If Coleman-Lands isn't clutch, then I don't know what clutch is. The freshman loves to have the rock in his hands in the most important moments. He's not afraid of the spotlight; that's just what Illinois needs.
While the Illini may have found themselves their best shooter in the John Groce era, Jalen Coleman-Lands most definitely has strides to be made in other areas of his game. For one, the freshman is not a very good defender. Part of that still comes from the inexperience of being an underclassmen; he's not exactly used to the system and isn't used to competing against college level competition. That being said, Coleman-Lands needs to be more communicative and pesky on defense. He's shown signs of good defense (Groce said that his performance against UIC was his best showing on that side of the ball), but he needs to get to the point where he can shut down defenders and be relied upon consistently to spark the Illini offense through suffocating defense.
In addition, Jalen Coleman-Lands has yet to show much ability to penetrate and get in the lane. The problem with knock-down shooters is that they're very predictable. If Coleman-Lands is spotting up for a three, the opponent best believe he's going to take that shot. If Coleman-Lands can develop the skill set where he can drive to the hoop as well, defenders will give him more space, and subsequently, he'll be much more dangerous on offense.
All in all, Jalen Coleman-Lands is looking like one of the better freshman guards in the Big Ten this year. The Indiana native has a very bright future ahead of him with the Fighting Illini. He's had so much success thus far, but there's so much more that he can add to his game. With the right coaching and personal motivation, he can work to become a complete player with the ability to make great plays all over the floor. Don't forget this freshman.