On Friday, the Mean green basketball team will travel to Jamaica to take part in the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic in Montego Bay. They are set to take on two of the eight teams that are competing in the tournament: Rhode Island (3-1) and No. 17 Utah State (5-0).
“[The guys] probably don’t know what they’re getting into,” head coach Grant McCasland said jokingly. “They’re excited to get out of town and go to the beach, but we’ve been clear why we’re going: to win two games.”
While it will be some of the players’ first time traveling such a distance with the team, last season the Mean Green traveled to Hawaii. Some of the returning players experienced traveling with the team further than the usual conference opponents’ hometowns.
“It’s definitely going to be an experience out there,” junior forward Abdul Mohamed said. “We get to play two good teams out there. It’s going to be really fun and a good challenge.”
North Texas has started the season at 2-3, compared to last season’s 5-0 record through five games. The Mean Green have struggled to take care of the ball with 88 turnovers so far. Their 45.2 percent field goal percentage has also contributed to their losing record. McCasland recognizes the issue and is going to push the team to improve.
“We definitely got better,” McCasland said. “I think we’ve figured it out but, this season is definitely going to be a work in progress.”
North Texas is coming off of a home win over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday to break their three-game losing streak. The team is going to use this win to build momentum heading into the international tournament.
“I’m glad we finally ended our losing streak,” junior guard James Reese said. “It’s only up from here.”
Junior Zachary Simmons left the game early and missed the entire second half, but McCasland assured he wouldn’t miss the Classic. Simmons finished the night with four points and three rebounds.
“His ankle was a little loose on him days before the game,” McCasland said. “And we just didn’t want to turn pain into injury. I don’t think he’ll miss anytime in Jamaica.”
Two of the Mean green losses have come on the road against top-25 defenses in No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth, who beat North Texas by three points, and Arkansas. However, starting off a season losing is never the momentum a team is looking to carry with them, making Jamaica an opportune time for the Mean Green to redeem their rough start to the 2019 campaign.
“I think our guys understand what we’re going for,” McCasland said.
There are eight teams in the classic, although the Mean Green are scheduled to play two exhibitions — one on Friday, against Rhode Island, and one on Sunday against No.17 Utah State.
The other teams participating in the Classic9are Eastern Michigan, Louisiana State, Nicholls State, North Carolina A&T and Maryland-Baltimore. McCasland and his team are excited to head to Jamaica and he expressed his thankfulness to North Texas for the opportunity to go and play there.
“I’m thankful to North Texas for allowing us to do this,” McCasland said. “Because this is a big deal. It’s an experience these guys will never forget.”
Featured Image: Junior guard James Reese looks to pass as he steps toward the key at the game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 16, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard