Men’s basketball adds to team during offseason

Men’s basketball adds to team during offseason

Men’s basketball adds to team during offseason
April 27
23:35 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

The last glimpse of the Mean Green men’s basketball team was a gloomy one as it sulked off the court after a brutal 28-point loss to Rice University in the first round of the Conference USA tournament. The loss hit the team like a freight train, especially with the upcoming departures of five seniors, including Jordan Williams, the team’s leading scorer.

Ending the season on a four-game losing streak was certainly not the way the Mean Green seniors wanted to end their collegiate careers. Junior guard Maurice Aniefiok said he spent nearly all of spring break at home and didn’t do much of anything after the team returned to Denton.

“It was kind of like a somber reflection time to sit down and think about where you can get better or what you felt like you could have done better,” Aniefiok said. “I felt like I could have done a better job.”

Aniefiok said watching the NCAA tournament made him wish he was there even more.

“Beginning from the offseason, you did everything you could just to be able to take your team to that point,” Aniefiok said. “At the end of the day, that’s the game. You win some and you lose some. Just from the offseason, now we have our minds set on what next year will be like.”

Since the season ended, players have buckled down in classwork and worked to improve weak areas in their games. Throughout the offseason, players get two hours of individual training per week with the coaching staff, as well as eight hours of strength and conditioning. Outside of that, coaches can only encourage players  to spend as much time in the gym as they can.

The Mean Green will continue adding to its recruiting class in the upcoming months. Head coach Tony Benford said the team’s struggles down the stretch were a result of an unconventional starting lineup that lacked a true point guard.

“I think that really hurt us,” Benford said. “I had guys playing out of position. It’s like the quarterback. When you don’t have a quarterback, it’s tough.”

Guards have been a clear focus thus far in this year’s recruiting class, as four of the five new Mean Green signees play in the backcourt. Over the past two weeks, Benford signed 6-7 swing guard Allante “Tay” Holston from Angelina College and 6-4 guard Deckie Johnson from West Oaks Academy in Florida to national letters of intent. Benford said the versatility of Holston and Johnson on defense was something the team desperately needed to add for the upcoming season.

“Deckie and Tay are both good defenders, but they can also score the basketball,” Benford said. “In this league, you have to have guys that can go off the bounce, create for themselves and their teammates, and I think we’ve added that.”

The leading candidate to start at point guard next season is J-Mychal Reese, who transferred to North Texas last summer and had to sit out the entire 2014-15 season due to NCAA eligibility requirements. After averaging 6.3 points and 1.8 assists in 25 starts for Texas A&M University in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Reese was looking for a fresh start.

“I knew coach Benford since I was in eighth grade, so having that relationship with him really opened my eyes to North Texas and what they had to offer,” Reese said.

Benford said Reese, along with freshman forward Jeremy Combs, can be one of the best players in C-USA next season. However, the team is still looking to add more big men in this year’s recruiting class to help Combs down low.

“Last year, we lost a lot of games because we just didn’t have that big body to bang in with a couple guys,” Aniefiok said. “I feel like a lot of teams out-rebounded us just because of that. If we can get one or two big guys, that will really help us a lot.”

The Mean Green will look to 7-foot, 260-pound signee Rickey Brice from Arlington to make an immediate impact in his freshman season. However, Benford said he is still looking to add one or two more post players in the upcoming months.

Until then, coaches will look to make the most out of their limited time with players through the end of the spring semester. Thanks to new summer practice rules implemented by the NCAA in 2012, Benford will have the chance to work with each new recruit individually before beginning full team practices in July to help the new players make the transition from high school to college hoops.

“Now that we’re allowed to work with them, that gives our team a chance to build some chemistry during the summer and gives the young guys the chance to make the adjustment and get acclimated with what we’re doing here,” Benford said.

Featured Image: Junior forward Maurice Aniefiok drives past a University of North Carolina – Charlotte defender on Feb. 26. The 81-65 victory was the team’s final win of the season.  Photos by Edward Balusek – Visuals Editor

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