North Texas Daily

Sophomore forward Combs embraced mentorship to achieve stardom

Sophomore forward Combs embraced mentorship to achieve stardom

March 10
01:09 2016

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

Seven 20-point scoring games, 16 double-digit rebounding games and averaging a double-double this season has cemented sophomore forward Jeremy Combs as a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court in Conference USA.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

“He had the ugliest shot I had ever seen,” former Dallas Carter High School basketball coach Robert Allen said. “Most people don’t know how bad he was at first.”

Combs and a few friends were shooting around in the Dallas Carter basketball gym his freshman year when Allen noticed the 15-year-old’s 6-foot-7 frame. Combs played defensive end and tight end at the time for the Carter football team and hadn’t developed a decent basketball shot yet.

Regardless, Combs’ athleticism piqued Allen’s interest.

“I wanted to see what I could do with someone with that size, so I said, ‘Man quit playing, shoot for real this time,’” Allen said. “And he kept shooting the same way again and again.”

Despite not having a fluid jump shot, Combs has evolved into a star at North Texas in his two seasons in Denton. He is one of the highest ranked players in Conference USA, earning All-Conference second team honors this week and leading the Mean Green in scoring, rebounds, steals, free throws, field goals, field goal percentage and double-doubles.

Sophomore forward Jeremy Combs (1) dunks against WKU. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore forward Jeremy Combs (1) dunks against WKU. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Allen approached Combs’ father Derrick and convinced them he could turn Jeremy into a successful basketball player – just like he did with San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Brooklyn Nets guard Donald Sloan at Seagoville High School and Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh at Lincoln High School.

“I told Jeremy, ‘You’re not good now, but if you follow me, I can take your game to another level,’” Allen said. “He reminded me of LaMarcus and Bosh with how long he was defensively and of Sloan’s aggressiveness. He didn’t have all the tools at first, but he was a gym rat like those three and hard work always trumps talent.”

Many hours of private shooting, dribbling and rebounding drills later, Combs evolved into one of the best prospects in Texas high school basketball history. Combs led all Dallas area 4-A players in the 2013-2014 season with 615 total points and 358 rebounds before being named the No. 15 player in Texas by Future150.com and a McDonald’s All-America nominee.

Combs said he’s learned a lot about the game of basketball since being introduced to it by Allen and then with North Texas men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford, but gives most of the credit for his success on the court to his father, Derrick.

“He didn’t play basketball. He just did a great job of raising me, my brother and sister,” Jeremy said. “He kept my mind right with everything and made sure I did what I needed to do on and off the court growing up.”

Derrick Combs has worked as an Asset Management Technician at the Parkland Health & Hospital System for 27 years. Although Jeremy is one of the Mean Green’s elite players, there are still some things Derrick would like to see his son improve.

“He’s got to work on that shooting, because that’s the only thing that can stop him from going to the next level to the pros,” Derrick said. “His passing needs to get better too for when teams double and triple-team him in the paint.”

Derrick said he’s gained a lot of respect for Benford since meeting the coach when Jeremy was being recruited by several programs. The final decision to join the Mean Green involved putting Jeremy in a system he could thrive in while staying close to home.

“Coach Benford wasn’t like a lot of the other coaches who recruited Jeremy,” Derrick said. “He actually cared about his players and treats them like his own family. I knew my son would be in good hands.”

North Texas sophomore forward Jeremy Combs celebrates a dunk against Southern Illinois University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore forward Jeremy Combs celebrates a dunk against Southern Illinois University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

The hard work Derrick instilled into Jeremy payed off at the collegiate level for North Texas, according to Benford.

“With his dad being a hard worker, those habits translate on and off the court,” Benford said. “That’s why he’s such a good player, because your habits determine how successful you’re going to be.”

Jeremy said he’s very grateful to have a father figure on and off the court to help guide him to be the best player and person he can be.

“I know he’s going to make it to every game that he can, and that means a lot to me,” Jeremy said. “And Coach [Benford] makes sure we get everything done on and off the court. I know if I need anything, I can always go to him and ask him anything.”

The Mean Green’s season came to a screeching halt Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the C-USA Tournament, falling to Western Kentucky University  84-76. The task was even tougher considering Combs was battling a high ankle sprain suffered last week, which limited him to just two minutes of action against WKU.

But Combs still battled to get into the starting line-up, even if he couldn’t stay in very long. It’s a quality Benford said Combs exhibits consistently.

“Every day he comes in saying, ‘Let’s get it coach, let’s get it,’” Benford said. “Even as coaches you get down sometimes, but when you have a player that’s ready to go with that type of passion I have to make sure I work hard for those guys too.”

While earning C-USA second-team honors is still an accomplishment, being snubbed from the first team is something Jeremy said puts a chip on his shoulder.

“They didn’t think I was the freshman of the year, so I got to come out and get player of the year on them,” Jeremy said. “Whoever is going to match up with me is going to have a long night every night.”

Featured Image: Forward Jeremy Combs, center, signs to North Texas with his high school coach Pope Allen and his dad, Derrick Combs, right. Courtesy | Jeremy Combs

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