Wearing his Syracuse uniform for a change instead of street clothes, Dajuan Coleman relaxed in the Carrier Dome locker room, sweat glistening from his forehead and a smile on his face.
After missing most of the past two seasons with knee injuries, the burly 6-foot-9 senior center was back in his element and it felt very good.
''I've been waiting a long time for this,'' Coleman said after the Orange beat crosstown foe Le Moyne 97-58 in an exhibition game on Monday night. ''It felt real good to see some of my hard work pay off. I just really wanted to get out there and give the fans what they came to see.''
Coleman, a Syracuse native who played high school ball at nearby Jamesville-DeWitt, scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting in 23 minutes against the Division II Dolphins. He also snared seven rebounds, four on the offensive glass, and had two blocks and one steal.
''It was really good, not playing for two years,'' coach Jim Boeheim said of Coleman's performance. ''He's getting up and down the court fine. I thought he did some really good things for his first time back.''
''I feel good. I feel like I was playing before my injuries,'' Coleman said. ''Coach does a good job of giving us a chance to rest. I think I'm definitely a big piece of the team this year.''
There's a lot to replace. Last season, center Rakeem Christmas, the Orange's leading scorer and rebounder, averaged 37.1 minutes in 18 ACC games, tops among conference big men. And he played every minute of nine of those games, including an overtime win over Wake Forest.
Coleman started the first 12 games of 2013-14 and Syracuse was unbeaten and ranked No. 2 when he had to undergo surgery on his left knee and was lost for the season. He had averaged 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds while playing 13 minutes a game in a three-man rotation at center with Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita.
The knee problem had resurfaced three weeks earlier when Coleman started but played just six minutes against Villanova on Dec. 28, 2013. He had undergone surgery on the same knee the previous season because of cartilage damage.
Through it all, Coleman has remained on an even keel.
''I never really felt bad for myself. I don't want people to feel sorry for me,'' said Coleman, who is down to 255 pounds. ''That's not the type of person I am. Stuff happens.
''I've been frustrated a little bit, but it's just stuff I have to get through. It's not big. It's nothing I can't get past.''
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