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Head coach Grant McCasland rebuilds men’s basketball program by targeting recruits

Head coach Grant McCasland rebuilds men’s basketball program by targeting recruits

North Texas head coach Grant McCasland coaches the team during spring practice. McCasland coached at Arkansas State University last season before taking the job at North Texas. Colin Mitchell

Head coach Grant McCasland rebuilds men’s basketball program by targeting recruits
April 26
19:49 2017

Winners.

That’s what newly appointed head basketball coach Grant McCasland wants in the North Texas basketball program. It’s something McCasland did plenty of in his lone season at Arkansas State University last season, when he doubled the Red Wolves’ win total from 10 to 20 in just one year. He remains adamant that having players with experience winning is crucial to building a successful program.

This has always been McCasland’s approach to recruiting. With a Division II national title under his belt and several trips to the Elite Eight, McCasland has the resume to back up his strategy.

“The No. 1 need for us was to find guys that want to win and came from winning programs,” McCasland said. “After that, the key was getting guys that knew how to play and could shoot.”

With the 2017 roster set, that’s exactly what McCasland got in his first recruiting class at North Texas.

McCasland and his staff were able to lure in seven new players — four junior college transfers and three true freshmen. This approach allows them to pair the young talent of the three freshmen with the experience of the four transfers and the players coming back from last year’s squad.

“We’re excited [about this freshman class],” associate head coach Ross Hodge said. “Zach Simmons ended up being the 16th best player in the state. I think Umoja [Gibson] was a top 25 player in the state. Both are really good kids.”

The third piece to that freshman class puzzle is Mark Tikhonenko, a 6’10 Russian forward.

Coaches think highly of these three prospects and the same can be said about the junior college players as well. The junior college players have all had winning experience over the past couple of years and fit perfectly into McCaslands plan to get players that know how to win.

The four junior college recruits combine to have a 97-32 record last year. Junior Tope Arikawe advanced to the NJCAA tournament round of 16 and junior Jorden Duffy led his JUCO team to the NJCAA quarterfinals.

All seven incoming players jumped off the film because of their talent, but there’s much more that goes into players being ready to compete at the Division I level than just raw ability.

“[Our recruits need to be] good students, good ambassadors and good people,” Hodges said. “As far as the actual player, you look at more at the intangible things. You want to see how they react when things don’t go their way.”

The right intangibles matter to this coaching staff, and it’s not only the incoming players that show those much-needed traits. Currently, eight players are set to return from this past year, and the talent from that group is largely what McCasland based his recruiting on.

“We’d like to play fast, [and] I think the key components for us were the guys on the current roster,” McCasland said. “Ryan Woolridge, A.J. Lawson, Allante [Holston], Shane [Temara]. With those guys, I felt like we needed to find guys that could fit that [fast style].”

Woolridge had a strong freshman campaign in 2016, averaging 9.6 points per game on over 50 percent shooting. Woolridge is one of those players that McCasland wants to build around, especially since he matches his new coaches up-tempo play style.

“It makes me feel good that he’s actually looking at us as a starting piece for building this [program] up,” Wooldridge said.

With the foundation of the team in place, the new players will be critical to making this turnaround seamless and smooth just as McCasland did at Arkansas State. He knows regardless of how players look on film or in AAU tournaments, the real test comes when a player faces adversity.

And he isn’t worried about any of his players.

“The winning component is such a big deal to me and you don’t know [how players look] until you get in the trenches,” McCasland said. “We expect them all to make big impacts along with the guys on the current roster.”

After getting hired on March 14, McCasland wasted no time instilling something that has nothing to do with sets, screens, or styles — but something he sees as even more vital.

Coming off a down year, Woolridge felt McCasland’s impact right off the bat, and understands how his tempo can help him when attracting players to Denton.

“He’s really an energetic guy,” Woolridge said. “So I feel like he’s going to recruit people that are going to run the floor and pick up the pace instead of having to slow it down all the time.”

Even though he’s only been in Denton for about a month, McCasland has already set the stage for next season and years to come with a recruiting class that has a little bit of everything. From a 6’10 Russian to four players from some of the best junior colleges in the country to two of the top 30 players in Texas, McCasland believes he has given North Texas a faithful reason for hope.

“My excitement has to do with the fact that I think we got impact guys for immediate and for the future,” McCasland said. “We have a nice mix of guys ready to play now and guys that have a ton of potential where the future of our program is going to be in great shape.”

Regardless of where the players are from or what their background is, at the end of the day, he recruits with one thing on his mind when it comes to basketball.

“You have to have guys that understand how to win, I can’t put a big enough emphasis on that,” McCasland said.

Featured Image: North Texas head coach Grant McCasland coaches the team during spring practice. McCasland coached at Arkansas State University last season before taking the job at North Texas. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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