The North Texas men’s basketball team is one week in with official practices with a new look to this year’s roster. During the offseason, the Mean Green lost three seniors (Jordan Duffy, Tope Arikawe and Michael Miller) to graduation and former starting point guard Ryan Woolridge in a transfer to Gonzaga in June.
Miller and Arikawe both signed professional contracts in the offseason with Miller signing with the Den Heder Suns of the Dutch Basketball League and Arikawe agreeing to terms with the Trelleborg Pirates in Sweden’s Superettan League.
North Texas has eight new players in position to suit up this season, including two guards in freshman Larry Wise and junior JJ Murray who were redshirted last season.
For the remaining six, this season will be their first within the Mean Green program. These players consist of four guards and two forwards. Juniors James Reese and Javion Hamlet and freshmen Jalen Jackson and Karston Miller will play at the guard position. The forwards consist of graduate transfer Deng Geu and junior Thomas Bell.
Head coach Grant McCasland gave some insight regarding the state of the team after getting one week of practice under the team’s belt.
“We’re going to need them to be good,” McCasland said. “They’re good basketball players and we’ve got good size in the new guys and good competitiveness. The biggest thing is they’re going to need to play right away for us to be successful. We’ll rely more on our depth this year and we’ll have to play as many guys with extended minutes. So this will give us an opportunity for everybody to be fresher defensively and be able to share the ball more.”
McCasland is excited about new transfers that already have college experience. Despite not playing for the Mean Green yet, the skill that they can bring to the table will help the younger players.
“The new guys have great college
experience,” McCasland said. “Guys like [Geu], who was a graduate transfer, [Hamlet] and [Reese], I mean those guys have played a lot of college basketball. We’re thankful that we have experience in the new group and then experience from being apart of the program with the younger guys.”
The Mean Green have taken strides in order to develop chemistry within a roster that will have eight new players suiting up this season, according to junior forward Zachary Simmons. On Sept. 21 the team participated in the Tough Mudder in order to strengthen team comradery.
“We’ve done some mud runs and even a Tough Mudder,” Simmons said. “It’s almost on a daily basis where we’re all hanging out at each other’s houses, playing [NBA 2K] and whatnot. Being around each other is something that really helps with [team chemistry].”
Simmons hasn’t been participating in full-team practices as of late due to him undergoing surgery after breaking his nose. Last season, he was the team’s leading rebounder (7.0 per game) and was the only player to start all 33 games.
Sophomore forward Shakeem Alcindor has been lauded by Simmons as a player who has improved himself in the offseason after serving as a bench role last year. Alcindor played in five games last season as a freshman, scoring nine points and registering 11 rebounds and one block.
“He’s starting to figure it out, coming into college the game is kind of fast,” Simmons said. “It’s starting to slow down for him a little bit. He’s been in the weight room working and just working on his game and it’s really shown.”
When it comes to the men’s basketball team, being vocal on the court was a challenge for them last season. Redshirt sophomore guard Umoja Gibson talked about the improvements they’ve made regarding their vocality and communication on the court.
“We’re way more vocal this year,” Gibson said. “We’ve got way more talkative guys than last year. We just have a vibe and it’s because we’ve been around each other — not saying last year we didn’t hang around each other, we were just a quiet group last year.”
Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore guard Umoja Gibson drives the ball during a drill at practice on Oct. 1, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard