Updated: January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am
Tre’ Coggins couldn’t find a seat at his usual table at Air Force’s pregame meal in Fort Collins, so the freshman took a spot at the “grown up” table.
For the five seniors occupying the table, this was their chance to rattle the newcomer.
He caught a lot of grief, and was told by senior Michael Lyons, “all right, you eat at the grown table, you’ve got to play grown.”
Did any of this rattle the point guard?
“It was the first time sitting with the seniors at a pregame meal, so they had some stuff to say,” Coggins said. “But I wasn’t nervous.”
Coggins’ ability to control his nerves is one of the many attributes he’s displayed this season. His potential has revealed itself piece by piece, while not showing the full puzzle just yet.
He looked at ease at UNLV, sinking two late free throws as a crowd of nearly 15,000 tried to get inside his head. Those shots gave Air Force a lead and would have provided the winning margin had the Runnin’ Rebels not hit a shot in the final minute to send the game to overtime and ultimately cost the Falcons a shot at their first-ever road win over a ranked opponent.
Coggins has also shown the intelligence to run the offense, passing out eight assists with just one turnover against New Orleans. He’s shown the ability to get and make shots against top opponents, nailing both 3-pointers he attempted against Florida. And when he hasn’t played enough minutes to find an offensive rhythm, he’s contributed elsewhere. He piled up four steals in 11 minutes to help turn the tide in a win over Boise State.
“He’s just going to get better and better,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “He’s grown a lot. He’s just really a talented player and he’s just excited to play.”
After this season, Air Force will lose one of its all-time leading scorers in Lyons and one its all-time leaders in assists in Todd Fletcher. Coggins might be asked to fill the shoes of both.
“I see myself first as a point guard,” said Coggins, a 6-foot-2 native of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “I’ve always been a scorer, too, so I see myself being a scorer here also. We obviously have a lot of scorers with Mike Lyons and (Mike) Fitzgerald, but for the future we’re going to need scorers so I plan to take that role a little bit also.”
For now, Coggins' primary focus is learning to run the point. To that end he’s worked closely with Fletcher, a four-year starter who is among the nation’s best in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Tre’s going to be a terrific player,” Fletcher said. “I know you can see a glimpse of it right now. I feel like I am here to help him, because I know he can be 10 times better than I can.”
Fletcher’s primary work with his protégé has been on shot selection and the nuances of the offense. He described Coggins as a capable shooter, a great dribbler, a superior defender and a willing learner.
“He’s made for this job,” Fletcher said. “He’ll be fine.”
Coggins averaged 18 points during his junior and senior years at JSerra Catholic, twice earning MVP honors for the Class 4 (out of five) school in California. In six playoff games, that average jumped to 30 points. He generated interest from various colleges, but Air Force’s offer was the only one that was firm.
He liked the opportunity to step in and play right away, but needed some coaxing to ultimately come to the prep school.
“My parents helped me understand what a great opportunity it was,” he said. “That’s part of why I’m still here.”
Coggins clearly remains a work in progress. Partly because he plays behind Fletcher he has averaged fewer than 12 minutes through Air Force’s four league games, scoring nine points in those games. He's shown improvement, however. He committed 14 turnovers while dishing out eight assists in games through the end of December. Since then he's had just three turnovers to go with 15 assists.
The limited minutes are part of what has led him to pick up his game defensively. Against Boise, half of those steals came on the inside where he simply ripped the ball away from much larger players.
“It’s tough to get an offensive rhythm,” he said. “That’s why defense is such a great thing, you don’t have to get into a rhythm to play defense. That’s where I can see myself shining this year and helping the team.”
Coggins doesn’t know when he’ll be asked to shoulder a larger load of the offense. It could happen with an injury, it could happen next year … he just doesn’t know. He also didn’t know he’d step to the line in UNLV in a pressure situation and he didn’t know he’d find himself staring down five mischievous seniors looking to make him crack at dinner.
He handled those situations. There’s no reason to doubt he’ll be ready it comes time to unveil his full game.
“I think it just comes down to confidence in yourself,” Coggins said. “In bigger moments, it’s just nice to know that you can do it and just go out and do what you do best.”