North Texas Daily

Benford brings experience, new culture to basketball

Benford brings experience, new culture to basketball

Benford brings experience, new culture to basketball
February 03
23:36 2014

Akshay Mirchandani // Staff Writer

The ball is going to stop bouncing one day.

This is just one of the many messages that second year head coach Tony Benford sends to the Mean Green men’s basketball team: focus on academics, because basketball won’t be there forever.

Benford’s first two years at UNT had ups and downs, but he still sends postitive messages off the court to his team while also using his past basketball experiences to help the team win on the court.

“First of all, I want kids to get their degree. That’s the most important thing for me,” Benford said. “ [I want to] teach them to be productive citizens when they leave here, but also we want to win championships.”

Benford had his own success as a player, but it met a bitter end as he fell just short of playing in an NBA game. He started his playing career at Texas Tech University and was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the fourth round of the 1986 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for Benford, he was cut during training camp and was released later by the Chicago Bulls.

Benford then decided to go to the Netherlands and play professionally for the Dutch Basketball League, where he had trouble adapting to a new culture.

“It was an adjustment because you didn’t have the social media that you have now,” Benford said. “You didn’t have your phone and you didn’t have your internet back in the day.”

Benford knew in high school that coaching was his true passion and pursued it as a career after his playing days. He was an assistant coach at the University of New Mexico (1992-1998), Arizona State University (1998-2006) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2006-2008).

After that, Benford was an assistant coach and associate head coach at Marquette University under Buzz Williams in the Big East conference from 2008 to 2012. Marquette went to the NCAA tournament in all four of Benford’s years there and reached the Sweet Sixteen twice.

“It was tremendous going to the tournament every year,” Benford said. “I think once guys go to the tournament… it changes your work ethic. A coach doesn’t have to beg a kid to go work out.”

In his time as a coach, Benford has also coached players currently in the NBA, such as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, Jae Crowder of the Dallas Mavericks and former UNT star Tony Mitchell of the Detroit Pistons.

Senior guard Alzee Williams said all of Benford’s success makes the players want to listen and absorb what he has to say and Benford’s experience shows on the court.

“When some coaches would get nervous, he just keeps his poise like he knows what he’s doing because he’s done it before and he’s been in the position,” Williams said. “You can just tell he has a lot of experience from doing this.”

Williams said Benford has also brought a new, intense style to the Mean Green.

“It’s real tough and aggressive,” Williams said. “We just want to go out fighting. He doesn’t want us to get punked out there, just give everything you’ve got.”

Not only has Benford brought a new attitude to the Mean Green on the court, but off the court as well. Academics is one of the biggest things he emphasizes.

“I think one of the things that I really adore about him is he’s so huge on, ‘you have to get better in school’,” sophomore guard Maurice Aniefiok said.

Benford said that he also wants his players to have a sense of accountability and wants them to be successful later in life, whether it’s in basketball or another career.

“You got to have something to fall back on in your life and you’ve got to be really prepared,” Benford said. “You’re going to have a family one of these days and you’ve got to be a professional in something… whatever you decide to be, you got to be successful.”

Aniefiok said Benford is like a father figure to the team and he is a very approachable coach. He always makes time to speak with players when they need to talk.

“His office is always open, 24/7,” Aniefiok said. “The good thing about him is that when he’s with someone in his office, a very important person, and a player walks in he tells the person to hold on because he needs to talk to the player. He puts his players first.”

Despite all of the intangibles and experience that Benford has brought to the program, it was a rough start to his UNT career last season as the team finished with a 12-20 record. This season, however, the team is currently 11-10 in its first season in Conference USA and is still improving.

“Have we had the success we want? No. But I think we’ll continue to get better every day,” Benford said. “We’re trying to establish our own culture. A culture of toughness, a culture of accountability and of great character guys.”

Feature photo: North Texas head coach Tony Benford is on track to surpass last season’s record. Last year Benford closed out the season with a 12-20 win, lose record; this year the team is already at 11-10 wins over losses. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer    

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