North Texas Daily

New head coach Grant McCasland injecting life into men’s basketball program

New head coach Grant McCasland injecting life into men’s basketball program

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

New head coach Grant McCasland injecting life into men’s basketball program
April 05
21:12 2017

It’s loud in the Ernie Kuehne Basketball Practice facility. Between the sound of shots ricocheting off the rim and sneakers squeaking on the hardwood, it’s difficult to process everything going on.

But there is one person that bellows over the controlled chaos.

Even though he is one of the smallest people in the gym, the new North Texas men’s basketball head coach Grant McCasland can be heard barking orders over all the extraneous noise. The energy is palpable.

The players seem to be hanging on his every word. McCasland wants eye contact when he’s talking and he wants an understanding of what he is asking. It’s how he’s run practice since he became a head coach.

Now with a completely new locker room and university, the learning curve is steep. The teaching has to be hands on.

“You’ve got to find a way to play together and really find a way to teach your guys to play,” McCasland said. “They’ve got to understand the game and love the game. You better have guys who really truly believe in what you’re doing as a team. I love what we’ve been able to do so far. Everyone has really bought in, it feels like.”

As practice comes to an end, McCasland’s new team and coaches surround him in a circle. He’s shorter than almost all of them and is forced to look up when he speaks.

But when they all stand in a circle with arms around each other, they are one. Especially when they pray.

“He’s a god-fearing genuine man,” said sophomore guard Allante Holston. “These guys are really hard working and really good guys. I’m excited to see what they bring to our school.”

McCasland was announced as the 18th head coach of men’s basketball in program history on March 13 and replaces former head coach Tony Benford, who was not retained after the Mean Green went 8-22 and missed the Conference USA tournament last season.

And McCasland hit the ground running. Immediately after he was hired, McCasland went on the recruiting trail in Texas and New Mexico and had his new coaching staff in place just weeks after he arrived in Denton.

He brought over nearly his entire staff from Arkansas State University in associate head coach Ross Hodge and assistants James Miller and Jareem Dowling. It is a complete turnover for the players, but most appear to be enjoying it so far.

Things are beginning to change.

“I feel like our practices are way more intense,” Holston said. “Everybody is more focused. We are just looking to get a conference championship and go to the tournament. That’s what we want to achieve.”

It has been a homecoming for McCasland, who grew up about 40 minutes down the road in Irving.  Most of his immediate family is still in the area.

It was there where he cultivated his love for basketball with the help of his father.

He played football, basketball and baseball, all with his father as the coach. Being coached by his father helped grow his passion for sports as a whole.

“I was very fortunate to have him coach me,” McCasland said. “Very few people are fortunate enough to have their father coach in all sports.”

But after riding the pine for the most part in baseball, and tearing his ACL while playing football in seventh grade, McCasland fell in love with basketball.

The high scoring games and constant attention to detail caught his eye.

“It’s such an involved sport and so competitive,” McCasland said. “It was the one sport I could jump into after tearing my ACL. My sophomore year in high school I moved up to varsity and got a feel that I could possibly play in college.”

McCasland went from Irving High School to Baylor University where he was a three-year letterman and a four-year player before graduating in 1999. He earned his minutes at Baylor after starting on the bench. After finishing college in Waco, McCasland went to Texas Tech University to earn his masters, and became the director of basketball operations for the Red Raiders in 1999.

McCasland jumped into coaching young and has stuck around.

He earned his first head coaching gig at Midland College when he was just 27 years old.

“Playing in the Big 12 was a great way to get introduced to coaching because of the intensity,” McCasland said. “When you get into it as young as I was, you learn quickly if this is what you really want to do. As an assistant, you have a lot of ideas, but as a head coach, you have to really show what you’re about and what your philosophy is.”

McCasland went on to win a junior college national title in 2007 at Midland before spending two seasons as head coach of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. There, he led the Mustangs to two NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances.

But his stint at DII would not last long.

McCasland quickly made the jump to Division I as an assistant at his alma mater – Baylor. There he honed his craft under Scott Drew, with the Bears averaging 26 wins per year during McCasland’s tenure. They also won a National Invitational Tournament title, and appeared in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

It was at Baylor where freshman guard Ryan Woolridge met his future head coach.

“I always got a good vibe from him,” Woolridge said. “The other guys have read that. Our energy has picked up.”

Last season, McCasland got his first head coaching position at DI with Arkansas State University, where he turned a 10-win team from 2015 into a 20-12 team in 2016. After doubling Arkansas State’s wins in a single season, McCasland got a call from Athletic Director Wren Baker about the head coaching position at North Texas.

A short time later, McCasland became the first ever sitting DI head coach to be hired by the basketball program.

Now that he’s home, McCasland has to once again lay the foundation just as he did at Arkansas State to spark a turnaround. He knows what it will take, however.

He’s done it before.

“It starts with a personal relationship, not just on the basketball court with these guys,” McCasland said. “I’ll hold people accountable and come with a new, exciting attitude every day. That’s how I’ll get the most out of these guys.”

Featured Image: Gary Cocke, UNT sustainability coordinator and We Mean Green Fund advisor. Amber Nasser

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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