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Six Years in the Making by Linda Stewart Ball and C. Anthony Mosser
Summer 2007      


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The 2006-07 season

Looking forward

The basketball family

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Mean Green basketball

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Six Years in the Making

French Chef Extraordinaire

The Fight Doctor

Behind the Camera



The Mean Green's unexpected trip to the NCAA men's basketball tournament this spring didn't happen overnight. It was six years in the making.

The team celebrates its Sun Belt Conference tournament win.
(Photo by Ben Rikard)

Ardent supporters say it began when athletic director Rick
Villarreal hired Johnny Jones as head coach in April 2001. The
Mean Green's 15-14 record in Jones' inaugural year was the program's first winning season since 1995-96.

"There were a lot of doubters who said you couldn't win here," recalls Villarreal, who had worked with Jones at Louisiana State University and knew he had played on and coached teams that advanced to the Final Four. "I just felt that Johnny brought the right kind of traits to the table."

Jones left an assistant coaching job at the University of Alabama to come to UNT, where the Mean Green hadn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1988. But he says he could see the potential. This was an opportunity to create a winning tradition where none had existed before.

We are family


"You can talk to [Coach Jones] about anything. ... He's been like my father because I didn't have one growing up. " - Calvin Watson
(Photo by Joe Imel)

It hasn't been easy. For starters, Jones had to convince talented
youth to play for UNT. Then he began building a system that
nurtures the individual player while stressing the importance of
teamwork. The model he uses has served him well: Family.

"That's exactly what they are," Jones says of the players. "That
connection is forever."

As responsible family members, they're accountable to each other and the team. On and off the court, the coach reminds them, they've got an image to uphold.

Players say they give everything they've got on the court because they don't want to let anybody down — not their teammates, not their school and certainly not their coach, a man they respect and trust.

"I talk to a lot of my friends around the country," says guard Calvin Watson. "They can't go to their head coach and talk about personal problems.

"Coach Jones is different. You can talk to him about anything.… He's been like my father because I didn't have one growing up."

During practice, Jones encourages those who need a boost and corrects those in need of guidance. Insiders say he's benched players who have not taken care of themselves or their academic
business the way they should.

"Our biggest thrill is not just being able to win championships," says Jones, "but to watch our young men walk across the stage with their diploma in their hand."'

The payoff

But before they graduate, when they come together as a team and that gels — as it did this past season when they won a school-record 23 games, the Sun Belt Conference tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament — there is unabashed joy.

"It was a special team," says forward Quincy Williams. "Everybody believed in each other and wanted to accomplish one goal."

It helped that the players included defensive stopper Rich Young. The former Marine and Iraq war veteran gave his teammates perspective: At crunch time, playing basketball is nothing like being
on the battlefield.

When a hand injury early in the season sidelined Kendrick Davis, one of the leading scorers, others filled the void.

"We were so determined to win," Watson says. "When K.D. got back, we were just that much better."

When Davis couldn't play at the conference tournament, detractors expected the team to fold as it might have in the past, but it didn't. The Mean Green beat Arkansas State 83-75 in the final and earned the trip to the Big Dance.

"It was our dream to make it to the NCAA tournament," says point guard Ben Bell, whose emergence was a key to the strong season."It was more than what I thought it would be."

UNT gave nationally ranked Memphis a first-half scare in New Orleans before losing 73-58.

To be continued


Rick Villarreal and Johnny Jones join the party in New Orleans before the NCAA tournament's opening round.
(Photo by Angilee Wilkerson)

While making it to the tournament was a fitting send-off for seniors like Watson, Davis and Young, the windfall continues for UNT's basketball program.

Jones, who was named the Greater Denton Sports Commission's North Texas Coach of the Year, was rewarded with a five-year contract extension by the board of regents.

He has also parlayed the success into a solid recruiting class, including junior college guards Adam McCoy and Ryan McCoy (no relation); former Angleton standout Tristan Thompson, a 6-5 guard;
and Josh White, an all-state point guard from Baton Rouge. UNT has also signed former Dallas Kimball standout George Odufuwa, a 6-8 power forward who will sit out the upcoming season after transferring from Arizona State.

"We've shown we can get to the NCAA tournament," Jones says. "Now we want to get back there."

Players like Bell feel the same way.

"We let people know we can play some basketball here in Denton," Bell says. "Now, we want to protect our championship, and we're going to work twice as hard to do it."



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