Three freshmen, three-fifths of the men’s basketball team’s historic 2020 signing class, joined the Mean Green for the 2020-21 season. Each had a unique journey to North Texas and they all made an early impression on their new team.
“They’re really not freshmen to me,” Junior guard Mardrez McBride said. “I look at them like regular teammates, they don’t play like freshmen. They’re well-prepared and they’re dogs. College, it can be hard, especially in this pandemic […] they try to contribute to their best abilities every time.”
Hailing from Jack Yates High School in Houston, freshman guard Rubin Jones led an offense at Yates which scored over 100 points in 21 straight games his senior year. Although a leg injury in North Texas’ (17-9, 9-5 Conference USA) regular-season finale kept him out of the C-USA tournament, Jones led the team in 3-point percentage this season at 40.6 percent (among players with 10 or more attempts).
He averaged 6.2 points and two rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game as the team’s leader in minutes off the bench. Coming into the season, Jones said senior guard Javion Hamlet taught him how to be more patient.
“The main thing I’ve picked up from [Hamlet] is being patient on the court,” Jones said. “He doesn’t let anyone rush him. When he gets in the paint with everyone around him, he’s just really patient. Once you get in the paint, a lot of people start panicking and going too fast.”
Garnering scholarship offers from Louisiana Tech University and the University of Texas-El Paso, the lefty guard said North Texas’ early trust in him made the difference. Head coach Grant McCasland said Jones’ unselfishness allowed him to contribute early on and will continue to fuel his success.
“[Jones has] a good way about him in regard to his teammates, he’s extremely coachable,” McCasland said after the team’s Dec. 11, 2020, game against West Virginia. “He really wants to be good and he’s got others in mind while he does it, that’s why he’ll be successful.”
In freshman center Abou Ousmane’s case, an early opportunity to play attracted him to the Mean Green. With senior center Zachary Simmons being the only other big man on the roster, Ousmane said he liked the opportunity to learn from Simmons for a season before taking over as the starter.
“Every single day in practice, [Simmons] is telling me something new,” Ousmane said. “[Defensively] and offensively, being patient, playing low. He’ll stop practice, basically on-court coach, telling me ‘You’re supposed to do this, right?’”
Spending his senior year of high school at Scotland Performance Institute in Scotland, Pennsylvania, Ousmane averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and led his team to a GAC championship. During his recruiting process, Ousmane was previously committed to Cleveland State University and the University of Rhode Island before officially committing to North Texas in April 2020. Ousmane said he had a difficult time trusting schools during the recruiting process before deciding on the Mean Green due to their trust in him.
After joining North Texas, the 6-foot-10 big man also found a consistent role this season. Appearing in 24 of 26 games, Ousmane averaged three points and 2.3 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per game and has shown potential on both ends of the court.
“Abou has got a chance to be special,” McCasland said after North Texas’ Feb. 6 win over Louisiana Tech University. “Tonight, he was plus-11 in the plus-minus category. That’s huge for a guy who gets five rebounds and six points, but it’s his three blocks, he was really walled up defensively. [He] just played how we know he’s capable of playing.”
Arguably the most heralded freshman of the 2020 class, 6-foot-7 guard/forward Mykell Robinson held offers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wyoming before choosing North Texas. He spent his last two years of high school at prep schools Pro-Vision Academy and Sunrise Christian Academy, honing his craft for the college game.
“Pro Vision gave me the opportunity to showcase what I had, just gave me a good opportunity to be in front of the people I needed to be in front of,” Robinson said. “Sunrise prepared me for college because the whole atmosphere there was like college. From practice to class and just with the coaches, everything just helps you all around for college.”
Robinson appeared in 11 games this season, including all four of the team’s tournament games. While his limited minutes led to low averages (1.5 points and 0.6 rebounds per game), Robinson showed potential on both ends of the court and said the defense was his priority coming into the season.
“Being able to go out there every game and just give it [my] all on the defensive end,” Robinson said. “Everybody on this team is talented on offense, it’s who can play on defense, and I feel like I can do that in a powerful way.”
For all three freshmen, McCasland said their commitment to winning has helped each of them find ways to contribute early on.
“As a freshman, you can’t play unless you’re committed to winning,” McCasland said. “The games are too physical, they go too fast, because so much of it is not natural and you have a tendency to make mistakes. To their credit, all of them […] want to be great players, but they want to win first. That allows them to handle the adversity and the lack of success and keep pushing and finding ways to help the team.”
Featured Images by Zach Del Bello and Zachary Thomas