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Men’s basketball looks to bounce back after quick exit last season

Men’s basketball looks to bounce back after quick exit last season

North Texas freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown (3) hits a three point jumper against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

Men’s basketball looks to bounce back after quick exit last season
November 13
13:28 2015

Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer

@ReeceTapout15

After a blowout loss to Rice University in the Conference USA tournament ended its 2014 season, the North Texas men’s basketball team has several questions to answer with its 2015 campaign set to tip off Friday against Jarvis Christian University.

The Mean Green lost six players from last year’s team, most notably Jordan Williams, who finished ninth on the North Texas all-time scoring list with 1,501 points.

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North Texas freshman guard Allante Holston (5) drives on the baseline toward the hoop against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

One issue the Mean Green will face heading into the 2015 season is inexperience. Over half of North Texas’ current roster consists of underclassman, with the team sporting just four seniors.

But that hasn’t deterred head coach Tony Benford.

“We’re young. We know that. But we do have talent,” Benford said. “We feel good about the guys we have here. We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things.”

Throughout the offseason, Benford has repeatedly praised the team’s athleticism and backcourt play, particularly junior guard J-Mychal Reese. Before committing to Texas A&M University in 2012, Reese was the top-rated high school guard in Texas, according to ESPN.com. During his freshman season with the Aggies, Reese was the fifth highest scorer on the team averaging 6.2 points per game.

But after just one season in College Station, Reese decided to transfer to North Texas. He sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he is now eligible and ready to play.

Another reason for North Texas fans to get excited is sophomore forward Jeremy Combs, who was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team and remains one of the team’s best players. Combs averaged 10 points per game in 2014 and became one of just four freshman in North Texas history to average at least 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

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North Texas junior guard J-Mychal Reese splits Jarvis Christian defenders before passing the ball. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

Benford said Combs will have an expanded role in the offense this season with guys like Williams and former forward Colin Voss no longer in a Mean Green uniform.

“He’ll be able to score the basketball more,” Benford said. “He starts our fast break for us. He’s a great rim runner, and is one of the fastest players in our league. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses.”

The one area of his game Benford said Combs is working to improve is his free throw shooting. Combs shot just 48.6 percent from the charity stripe during his freshman season but said he has taken strides over the summer.

“It’s getting better,” Combs said. “I’m working on it every day at practice.”

Aside from the athleticism and backcourt play, Benford also said he was elated with the freshman recruiting class, primarily Rickey Brice Jr, whom he said should bolster the team’s presence in the paint.

“He’s coming along great,” Benford said of Brice. “He can change [opponents’] shots. We haven’t had anybody who could change shots like that because of his size. He’s going to be really good in our zone because he’s so big and takes up so much space. Offensively he can score on the low block.”

A center out of Pantego Christian Academy, Brice was the first seven-footer to sign with North Texas since Sean Riley in 1994. During his senior year, he averaged 24.2 points, 14.5 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game while being selected to first team all-state.

Brice said he developed a chemistry with Benford during the recruiting process and was excited to come to Denton.

“With Coach Benford, it’s like father like son,” Brice said. “He’s been there and he’s sent people to the [NBA], and that’s where I want to go.”

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North Texas junior guard Deckie Johnson (10) drives past a Jarvis Christian defender to look for a shot. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

But Brice is not the only recruit Benford is excited about. Freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown and junior guard Deckie Johnson are also high on the coach’s watch-list.

A freshman out of Pro-Vision Academy, Brown averaged 18.9 points and four assists per game as a junior. Johnson, a transfer from Angelina College, was a first team all-conference selection as a sophomore and ranked 41st in the country with 18.7 points per game in 2014.

Benford said both Brown and Johnson give the Mean Green an opportunity to space the floor and are capable of knocking down the open shot.

“Everybody that we put on the floor can shoot the basketball and score the basketball,” Benford said. “And we haven’t had that since I’ve been here.”

The 2015 season will be Benford’s fourth at the helm of the Mean Green. He said this team has a particularly high ceiling and is looking forward to what they can accomplish.

“I feel that we are [better than last year],” Benford said. “I think this could be the best team we’ve had.”

Featured Image:

North Texas freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown (3) hits a three point jumper against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

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