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Men’s basketball preview: Expectations high in what could be Benford’s final year

Men’s basketball preview: Expectations high in what could be Benford’s final year

North Texas sophomore forward Jeremy Combs dunks against Western Kentucky University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball preview: Expectations high in what could be Benford’s final year
November 02
14:40 2016

Although the weather may not feel like it, the calendar has pushed into fall, and soon winter will be upon us.

That means North Texas men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford and his squad are gearing up for a new season – one that could be Benford’s last in Denton.

Benford has entered the fifth and final year of his contract that was signed under Rick Villareal’s administration in 2012. Villareal is no longer with North Texas, so it will be up to current athletic director Wren Baker to decide if Benford continues his career with the Mean Green.

Despite posting a 12-20 record last season and losing in the first round of the Conference USA tournament, Benford is confident this year’s team has the intangibles to succeed.

“I think our guys understand our concepts a lot better because they’ve been in the system,” Benford said. “I think it’s one of the closer groups we’ve had. They [have to] buy into their roles if we are going to be successful. I feel like we’re ready to start the season.”

North Texas sophomore center Rickey Brice dunks during practice. Colin Mitchell

North Texas sophomore center Rickey Brice dunks during practice. Colin Mitchell

The Mean Green return a key group of players in senior guards J-Mychal Reese and Deckie Johnson, sophomore guards Ja’Michael Brown and Allante Holston, sophomore center Rickey Brice Jr. and junior forward Jeremy Combs.

The Mean Green also added freshmen guards A.J. Lawson and Ryan Woolridge, graduate forward Derail Green, junior forward Shane Temara and senior guard Keith Frazier.

Combs has been showered with pre-season awards from C-USA and various websites. He was named to the C-USA Preseason All-Conference team after averaging a double-double in 2015.

But Combs has bigger awards in mind.

“It’s a great honor,” Combs said. “But I want to win player of the year. So we’ll see how that goes.”

Combs’ focus over the summer was continuing to develop his mid-range game and improve on his free throw shooting. Last year, Combs added a steady jump shot to his repertoire and saw improvement at the charity stripe.

But Combs is not the only stand out on the team.

Frazier is the first McDonald’s All-American to ever play at North Texas. After transferring from Southern Methodist University last spring, Frazier should have an immediate impact when he becomes eligible in mid-December.

When available, Frazier is expected to be an X-factor for a North Texas squad that likes to go small due to an abundance of guards on the roster. Benford still expects to dabble in playing a big line-up, but for all intents and purposes, will make good use of his backcourt.

“When he’s healthy, [Frazier] can be really good,” Benford said. “We’re going to mix it up. We can play small ball, big ball, we’ll play both. With Derail [Green] and Shane’s [Temara] ability to stretch the floor, they can shoot the ball. They’re going to open it up for our guards in the lane and for our big guys in the post.”

Along with shooting the ball, Green has added a massive amount of experience to the team. Green was a part of the Wichita State University team that made the Final Four in 2013 and has been a catalyst in helping solidify a group that already matured in the offseason.

Reese has also noticed his teammates maturing around him. With a more seasoned group to play with, Reese hopes to build on 14.7 points per game and 118 assists total from last season.

“Everybody is maturing and growing from last year,” Reese said. “We know how coach wants everything. [The upperclassmen] have been helping the new people and building the chemistry.”

With their season debut nearly one week away, Benford believes he has all the pieces necessary to make a run. The entire team has adopted a “win-now” mantra, which it will likely have to accomplish if Benford is going to stick around.

As the trudge towards March begins, Benford’s expectations are lofty – and he has complete faith in his guys.

“This is a team capable of having a really good season,” Benford said “If we can take care of the basketball, share the basketball and sure up our defense, this is going to be a fun team to watch play. We feel like we can compete with anybody. I think this is a team that realistically can win 20 games.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior forward Jeremy Combs dunks against Western Kentucky University last season. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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