Trip to the NCAA tournament makes for a brighter 2007-08
By C. Anthony Mosser
For 2007-08, Jones will need to replace seniors and leading scorers (from left) Kendrick Davis and Calvin Watson. Starting point guard Ben Bell (right) will return next season.
UNT men's basketball coach Johnny Jones has altered his recruiting pitch a bit. No longer must he rely on the indirect answer to the seemingly inevitable question in the mind of virtually every prospective recruit.
"Coach, when's the last time North Texas made the tournament?"
Jones' stock reply — "We need to get players like you so we can get there" — served him well over the years. The answer managed to massage the ego of teenagers while hiding the frustration of being at the helm of a program that had gone virtually a generation without an NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament appearance.
Now Jones no longer talks in nebulous terms.
"It has helped," he says of UNT's tournament appearance in March. "It has brought more recognition to the program. We've received more attention from what could be described as higher-caliber players than before."
Filling the void
Jones is hopeful that the guard-intensive recruiting class will help the Mean Green make berths in the so-called "Big Dance" more of a habit than a rare occurrence.
Foremost on his recruiting wish list for the Sun Belt Conference tournament champions was finding replacements for graduating seniors and leading scorers Calvin Watson (15.7) and Kendrick Davis (13.1) and defensive stopper Rich Young. Also gone is Michael Sturns, who averaged 12.1 points off the bench. Sturns is transferring to a Division II school.
One player expected to pick up the scoring slack is 6-2 Collin Dennis, a junior who sat out last year after transferring from South Florida. Dennis, a Richland High graduate, is a strong outside shooter.
Newcomers who should help fill the void include 6-5 Tristan Thompson, 6-4 Adam McCoy and 6-0 Ryan McCoy (no relation to Adam).
Thompson, a former all-state player at Angleton High, attended Brewster Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire this past season. He averaged 26.7 points per game his senior season at Angleton. He is a capable outside shooter and adept at getting to the free throw line.
Adam McCoy, a former standout at Arlington Oakridge, comes to UNT from Mesa Community College where he averaged 18.4 points per game and shot 48.7 percent from three-point range.
Ryan McCoy, a Houston Madison graduate, also comes from the junior college ranks. He can play either guard spot and won junior college national titles, first at Fort Smith, Ark., in 2005-06 and then at Midland College this past season.
One of the keys to UNT's success last season was the seamless transition that Ben Bell made from junior college to the Division I level. Bell will be back as the Mean Green's starting point guard next season, but Jones has enhanced that position with the additions of Ryan McCoy and incoming freshman Josh White, an all-state pick from Baton Rouge Christian Life. White led his high school team to back-to-back Class A state titles.
"Ben Bell did a great job for us last year, but I really felt we had to play him too many minutes in some games," Jones says.
Returnee Collin Mangrum, a 6-4 sophomore guard, figures in the backcourt mix as well.
UNT, which set a school record with 151 blocked shots, appears well stocked up front with returning starters in 6-8 Quincy Williams and 6-9 Keith Wooden. Both will be seniors. They contributed to UNT's balanced offense by averaging 10.5 and 9.2 points per game, respectively. Williams led the Mean Green with 38 blocks.
Harold Stewart, a 6-8 junior forward, and Justin Howerton, a 6-10 junior center, will again add depth inside. Mindful of the future, Jones has added former Dallas Kimball standout George Odufuwa, a 6-8 sophomore, to the team (he will sit out next season after transferring from Arizona State).
In one other change, Jones' longtime coaching associate George "Tic" Price has joined the Mean Green staff as an assistant. Jones coached under Price at the University of Memphis in the late 1990s.
It has been a whirlwind off-season for Jones. From an increase in speaking engagements to throwing out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game to happily changing his pitch to prospective recruits, he has been busy promoting UNT men's basketball.
"We feel like we've got a solid nucleus of guys who can get us back to the NCAA tournament," Jones says. "It feels good to be able to say that."