Dave Barnett to take over as voice of UNT athletics

UNT announced today that Dave Barnett will take over as the radio voice of North Texas athletics.

Barnett grew up in Denton and has been a prominent figure in Dallas area radio and television for years. He has been a radio voice for the Mavericks and TV play-by-play announcer for the San Antonio Spurs.

He is best known in he Dallas area for his stint calling Rangers games on radio and TV from 2009-12.

Barnett will take over for George Dunham, who announced he was retiring from his position at UNT after basketball season. Dunham had been the voice of UNT athletics for 25 years.

“I am excited and honored to have been selected to replace the great George Dunham as the voice of the Mean Green football and basketball beginning this fall,” Barnett said in a video UNT released to announce the move. “As a Denton native, as an alum, it’s something I have dreamed about my entire career. It will be quite the honor and a lot of fun to be the voice of the Mean Green.”

Barnett’s stint with the Rangers ended in June of 2012 when he spoke incoherently for 15 seconds during a game against the San Diego Padres. He went on medical leave shortly after and went through a series of medical tests.

The Rangers did not renew his contract at the end of the season.

Barnett spoke about the experience and how his time with the Rangers ended with Barry Horn of The Dallas Morning News in November.

Barnett spent 13 years working for ESPN earlier in his career.

UNT announced the move in conjunction with Saturday’s spring game and Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Dunham is a member of this year’s Hall of Fame class.

“It has been a dream come true,” Dunham said of his time calling UNT games after he announced his retirement. “I wanted to call North Texas games when I left school. To do it for 25 years has been incredible. It’s someone else’s turn. Someone will love to do it as much as I did.”

Barnett will now have that opportunity.

UNT spring game preview, tidbits

Safety Kishawn McClain was named one of UNT's most improved players this spring. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Safety Kishawn McClain was named one of UNT’s most improved players this spring. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT’s spring game will take place tomorrow at 2 p.m. over a Apogee Stadium.

The wife and I live not too far from the stadium and its raining cats and dogs. Hopefully things clear up by tomorrow afternoon.

A couple of quick tidbits …

The announcement of the Most Improved players is just he beginning. UNT will announce who its new radio voice will be tomorrow and will also unveil the next batch of walk-ons to be put on scholarship. I would just about bet the farm on offensive lineman Sam Rice being one of them. UNT coach Dan McCarney has raved about the SMU transfer all spring.

The game will include 12-minute quarters. UNT’s first- and third-team players will form the Green team that will face the White team that will include the second- and fourth-team guys. Cornerbacks coach LaMarcus Hicks will coach the Green team, while safeties coach Perry Carter will have the White team.

I have a preview story running in tomorrow’s paper on UNT’s effort to improve its offense by making some key adjustments. The biggest is picking up the pace.

Here are a couple of items of interest to watch …

1. Does Andrew McNulty continue to shine?

The senior’s lead in the quarterback race isn’t mini. In fact is pretty sizable over Josh Greer and Dajon Williams. McNulty can put an exclamation point on a really good spring in the Green and White game. He will still have to hold off DaMarcus Smith in the fall, assuming Smith takes care of business and is eligible.

2. What does UNT front seven on defense look like?

UNT has moved players all over the place up front defensively. Andy Flusche is in line to start a defensive end, Fred Scott has moved from middle linebacker to the outside. Defensive end Tillman Johnson is out for the spring with a knee injury. There is no telling what UNT’s lineup will look like, but what we see tomorrow could provide a glimpse of how UNT will line up in the fall.

3. How does UNT’s defensive backfield look?

UNT lost three starters in is secondary and are rebuilding around cornerback Kenny Buyers. That new-look lineup will be tested Saturday.

4. What about UNT’s offensive line?

UNT has four new starters around center Kaydon Kirby. How that group comes together will be critical. The group will get a chance to show what it has in the spring game.

5. Will UNT’s young wide receivers shine?

UNT’s coaches really like redshirt freshmen Tee Goree and O’Keeron Rutherford. We could get a chance to see if they show up big. Both are sitting second on UNT’s depth chart.

6. Does someone really jump out?

The spring game offers an opportunity for a player no one expects to show up. A lot of players will get a golden opportunity to make a move.

MGB video: OC Mike Canales talks about offensive adjustments

One of the intriguing aspects of UNT’s spring drills has been the adjustments the Mean Green are making offensively.

UNT started three quarterbacks last season and scored 21 or fewer points seven times. The Mean Green lost six of those games and finished 4-8.

Those struggles promoted UNT to look for ways to adjust its offensive approach without sacrificing the balance that coach Dan McCarney believes is the key to success.

UNT has talked about pushing the pace all spring.

Offensive coordinator Mike Canales talks about UNT’s plans for its spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Apogee Stadium and next season as well in the video above.

UNT position series: Mean Green aim to continue special teams success

North Texas kicker Trevor Moore kicks a field goal in a game against Louisiana Tech last season a Apogee Stadium. Moore was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas kicker Trevor Moore kicks a field goal in a game against Louisiana Tech last season a Apogee Stadium. Moore was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Position: Special teams

Key returnees: P Eric Keena (Jr.), P Blake Macek (Jr.), K Trevor Moore (So.), PR Darvin Kidsy (Jr.), KR Carlos Harris (Sr.)

Key additions: None

Key losses: DS Blake Dunham

2014 recap: UNT has excelled on special teams during the tenure of coordinator Tommy Perry. The Mean Green led Conference USA in kickoff coverage with a net average of 43.9 yards an attempt and also ranked No. 1 in field goal accuracy after hitting 15 of its 17 attempts (88.2 percent). Moore hit all 39 of UNT’s extra point attempts. UNT was also solid in the kickoff return game, ranking fourth in the league at 23.2 yards an attempt. UNT did struggle somewhat on punt returns, where it averaged 7.8 yards an attempt.

The fact that UNT fared as well as it did in the return game was somewhat of a surprise after the Mean Green lost wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, who was named Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013. Chancellor is the Mean Green’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 5,503. Harris and Kidsy stepped in to fill that void. Kidsy returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season while averaging 24.9 yards per kick return and 10.1 yards a punt return. Harris averaged 23.6 yards a kickoff return.

2015 outlook: UNT coach Dan McCarney firmly believes he has one of the nation’s best kickers in Moore, who was set to walk-on at Oklahoma before receiving a scholarship offer from UNT. That investment paid immediate dividends for UNT, which saw him come through time and again. UNT is also set at punter with the return of Keena and Macek, a pair of players the Mean Green use depending on the situation.

UNT is looking at its options in the return game in spring practice, but he safe bet is that Kidsy will be back returning punts and will team with Harris in the kick return game.

UNT will have to replace some key members of its coverage teams, but has a coach who excels in putting together solid coverage and return units in Perry.

UNT position series: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Defensive line | Linebackers | Secondary

Thursday night notes (UNT tennis team wins in C-USA tournament)

The UNT tennis team started off the Conference USA tournament on a good note by knocking off Louisiana Tech in straight sets. The Mean Green won the doubles point and then quickly rolled off three straight singles wins from Agustina Valenzuela, Franziska Sprinkmeyer and Ana Sofia Cordero, the last three players in its lineup.

The Mean Green advanced to face Old Dominion at noon on Friday.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the story that ran in today’s paper about UNT’s top player Kseniya Bardabush, who models on the side and may have a chance to model professionally after she’s done with tennis.

Bardabush is a great player and a smart woman who is also an honors student.

The tournament is being played at Rice, which has a live stream going.

Small forward Allante Holston commits to UNT (updated)

Allante Holston, a 6-6 small forward whoes stock has shot up over the last few weeks, committed to UNT Thursday evening.

Holston played for a pair of schools in the Washington DC area in high school, spending three seasons at St. John’s College High before transferring to Clinton Christian for his senior year.

Holston elected to spend a year in prep school to improve his perimeter skills in the hope his college opportunities would improve with them.

That is exactly what took place after Holston landed at West Oaks Academy in Florida. Holston averaged 15 points and seven rebounds a game in his one prep season. He chose UNT over offers from Cleveland State, Charlotte, Bradley, Tulsa and Cal State Northridge.

Holston visited UNT over the weekend.

“It was everything,” Holston said of his reasons for committing to UNT. “I liked the coaches and the players. It’s a family oriented program at a big school. I am happy to be a part of North Texas. It felt like home.”

Holston can play both guard spots in addition to small forward. UNT lost small forward Jordan Williams, who led the Mean Green with an average of 14.7 points a game last season, to graduation after his senior season when the was a third-team All-Conference USA selection.

West Oaks played a national prep school schedule against top teams from across the country and knocked off IMG Academy, one of the nation’s elite programs. Holston played a key role in that win and caught the attention of teams across the country.

“He’s becoming a hot commodity right now,” West Oaks coach Chris Chaney said. “He’s 6-6, athletic and knows how to play. The calls were coming in. It’s a great get for North Texas.”

Holston is expected to sign his letter of intent in the next few days and join a class that grew by one earlier in the week when Angelina College shooting guard Deckie Johnson committed to UNT.

UNT signed Arlington Pantego Christian center Rickey Brice and Pro-Vision Academy guard Ja’Michael Brown in the early signing period.

Check back for more later.

UNT two-deep out, here are some thoughts

UNT released its full depth chart today in advance of its spring game on Saturday. There were a few items of interest when it comes to the where UNT stands at this point.

Here are a few thoughts …

– UNT’s key recruits are panning out on its offensive line

The Mean Green nearly signed Sam Rice out of high school before he flipped to SMU. The Mean Green anticipated Rice becoming a key player when he transferred in. Rice has been everything UNT has hoped for and is all but a lock to start.

Redshirt freshman Chris Miles has also played well and is in line to start at right tackle. UNT’s staff has raved about him ever since the Mean Green signed him out of Flower Mound in what looked like an absolute steal in recruiting.

Creighton Barr graduated early and enrolled at semester in the hope that he could play as a freshman. That move appears to have paid off for Barr, who is listed as a backup at center.

– Josh Greer appears to have taken the lead at backup QB

We have been saying for weeks that Andrew McNulty has opened up a big lead at quarterback. So have UNT’s coaches.

The only real question the last few days of spring practice has been who would win the backup quarterback job, Dajon Williams or Josh Greer.

At this point it’s Greer.

There is still a lot to be decided in the fall when UNT hopes JUCO transfer DaMarcus Smith will be eligible. He’s at UNT taking classes.

Key point — Offensive coordinator Mike Canales said he wants to cut the field of guys competing for the quarterback job to two heading into the fall, when Smith will get a lot of reps. McNulty is sure to be of those players. Greer appears to be in line to be the other.

– UNT’s defensive line has a surprise look

UNT has a few holes to fill and a few options in terms of how it will line up on its defensive line. Andy Flusche wasn’t even on UNT’s two deep last season, but is in line to start at defensive end. That could change when Jareid Combs, a JUCO signee who will arrive in the fall, jumps into the mix, but it is a sign Flusche has played well.

The return of Tillman Johnson, who shined in limited action as a freshman, will also change things up a bit at defensive end. Johnson looked like a sure-bet to start before he went down with a right knee injury in practice.

Mustafa Haboul has also risen to the top of the depth chart at defensive tackle

– UNT makes the switch at linebacker

UNT has said ever since last season that it wants to upgrade its play at linebacker and made a couple of switches in an effort to reach that goal. UNT moved middle linebacker Fred Scott outside, where he is in line to start alongside Blake Bean. The Buffalo transfer is UNT’s starting middle linebacker at this point. McCarney told us earlier this spring he wouldn’t be surprised if Trinity Valley College transfer Cortney Finney moves into the starting lineup. Finney is sitting second team behind Scott.

– Chad David leads at cornerback

One of the interesting stories of the spring was Jamal Marshall’s successful move from outside linebacker to cornerback where he played in high school. He is battling Chad Davis for the starting cornerback job opposite of Kenny Buyers. As of now, Davis is UNT’s starter.

Wednesday night hoops notes (Barreno on visit, Benford on Johnson)

There were a couple of items of interest that came down on the UNT basketball front today. New Mexico JC center Ray Barreno will visit this weekend, while Angelina College shooting guard Deckie Johnson signed his national letter of intent.

I’ve gathered some follow-up material on both fronts …

Barreno

Barreno

I picked up the news that Barreno would visit from one of his coaches.

Barreno called me back later in the day to talk a little about where things stand.

UNT has been recruiting the 6-11 sophomore since the end of the season. Head coach Tony Benford has been in regular contact with Barreno and has told him that UNT needs a center next season.

Barreno has visited Portland and also has an offer from UTSA. What he’s looking for is the right fit, which is understandable considering he started out his college career with a short stay at Tulane before transferring.

“I want to go somewhere I can come in and make an impact and help a team win,” Barreno said. “I want to go someplace I feel comfortable with the team and the coaches. I also want to go somewhere I fit the style of play, where they will throw it in the post and play inside out. North Texas is that kind of place, that is why I am visiting.”

Barreno has heard a lot about UNT from Benford, but wants to see the school, get a better feel for how he will fit in with the program and its players.

UNT lost two of its key forwards in Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan to graduation. Highly regarded high school product Rickey Brice, who is a 7-footer, arrives in the fall, but he played at Arlington Pantego Christian and might need some time to adjust to playing on the college level.

Barreno was ranked No. 31 on TexasHoops.com’s list of the top players in the state in 2013 and appears as if he is a good fit for UNT in terms of what it wants to do.

Johnson

Johnson

We reported over the weekend that Johnson was headed to UNT after his high school coach announced it on Twitter. Johnson talked to us about his decision and what went into it the next day.

What can be interesting on national signing day is we hear from coaches after the letters roll off the fax machine about the roles they envision players filling the next season.

UNT put out a release on Johnson late today that included a couple of quotes that fit the mold. Once we take out all the superfluous, “We’re happy he signed” stuff this is what we get …

 He’s a winner, he’s been well coached, and he’ll be ready to step in and contribute for us from day one. I believe that because, first off, Deckie is an explosive guard that has a tremendous ability to score from anywhere on the court. Secondly, he has a mindset of toughness on the defensive end of the floor. I think he’s just a great all-around guard that has a chance to be one of the best in C-USA next season.”

And this …

“When you combine Deckie with the other guards we are adding to our roster this year, Ja’Michael Brown and J’Mychal Reece, all of them are really good athletes that can create their own shots and create shots for their teammates.They will make us better perimeter defenders and make us a smarter basketball team on the offensive end.”

The bottom line is that the Mean Green’s staff believes the team will be more athletic and better defensively on the perimeter with the the three guys it added in Johnson, Brown and Reese.

The Mean Green had better hope that trio helps offensively as well. UNT really struggled at times offensively last year when dropped a few stinkers (Rice 82, UNT 54 … Old Dominion 61, UNT 50 … Texas Tech 60, UNT 45 … Stephen F. Austin 59, UNT 48). Those games all came with consistent perimeter scorer Jordan Williams averaging 14.7 points a game in his senior year, and yes, I know he wasn’t always the most efficient player.

He was still pretty darn good and he won’t be easy to replace.

Johnson could help UNT in a host of ways. All I’m saying is it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he could put the ball in the hole consistently considering what UNT lost in Williams.

New Mexico JC center to visit this weekend

Barreno

Barreno

New Mexico Junior College center Ray Barreno will visit UNT this weekend, a Thunderbirds assistant coach confirmed this morning.

UNT signed two players in the fall in high school center Rickey Brice and combo guard Ja’Michael Brown and also picked up a commitment from junior college shooting guard Deckie Johnson this week.

The addition of that trio left the Mean Green with one pressing need left to address, an presence inside following the graduation of forwards Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan. New Mexico JC assistant Brian Lohrey confirmed this morning that UNT has been recruiting Barreno for the last several weeks.

Barreno appears to be one of UNT’s top options to fill its need for a front court player after a winding basketball journey that landed him at New Mexico JC last season. He is from Mexico, but played at Faith Christian Academy in El Paso and then signed with Tulane.

Barreno left Tulane after playing sparingly in his freshman season with the Green Wave and quickly settled in at New Mexico JC. Barreno averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds for a loaded team that featured three other players who are set to sign with Division I programs, including honorable mention NJCAA All-American Malique Trent, who is headed to TCU. Forward Kimani Jackson has committed to Colorado State, while guard Nick Billingsley is set to play for UTSA.

“Ray is 6-11, strong and is a good rebounder in his area,” Lohrey said. “He is good around the basket and can shoot it to 15 feet.

“He did a really good job for us and started a lot of games. We had some good guards. He didn’t score a lot, but helped us in a lot of ways.”

Barreno has already visited Portland and has seen interest pick up as the late signing period approached and more and more post players committed to other schools.

Barreno was a highly regarded high school player who had offers from Fresno State, Colorado State and Tulsa, among others.

Barreno didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Check back later. I may have more.

UNT position series: Mean Green aim to reload in secondary

North Texas cornerback Kenny Buyers closes in on Rice running back Charles Ross. Buyers will be one of UNT's top defensive backs this season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas cornerback Kenny Buyers closes in on Rice running back Charles Ross. Buyers will be one of UNT’s top defensive backs this season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Position: Secondary

Key returnees: CB Kenny Buyers (Sr.), S Kishawn McClain (So.), CB Chad Davis (Jr.)

Key additions: S James Gray (Fort Scott Community College), CB Xavier Grindle (Pearl River Community College), CB Ashton Preston (Edmond Oklahoma Santa Fe), CB Nate Brooks (Whitehouse), CB Taylor Robinson (Keller Central)

Key losses: CB James Jones, CB Zac Whitfield, S Sheldon Wade, S Lairamie Lee

2014 recap: James Jones was a second-team All-Conference USA selection at cornerback and one of UNT’s top defensive players last season. Jones helped UNT rank fourth in C-USA with an average of 207.7 passing yards allowed a game behind a veteran secondary. UNT leaned on its four veteran starters all season in Jones, Wade, Lee and Buyers, but did have to turn to McClain late in the season for three games when Wade went down with a shoulder injury. McClain handled being thrust into the starting lineup very well as a freshman, which could bode well for UNT this fall.

2015 outlook: One of UNT’s biggest challenges in 2015 will be reloading in a defensive secondary that lost several key players to graduation. Jones was a terrific two-year player for the Mean Green after transferring in from Kilgore College, while Lee was also an asset despite being slowed by injuries. UNT tried to reload by signing five defensive backs in its 2015 recruiting class, including two junior college players. Gray was one of UNT’s top signees and is all but a lock to start at safety along with McClain, one of UNT’s top signees in the Class of 2014. One of the interesting moves of the offseason was UNT shifting outside linebacker Jamal Marshall back to cornerback, where he played in high school. That move paid off quickly. Marshall was battling for a starting job by the midway point of spring practice and appears to be a lock to at least see playing time in the fall. Preston was one of UNT’s top high school signees and Grindle could also be an immediate impact player when he arrives in the fall. UNT might have lost the most to graduation from its defensive secondary among its position groups, but it also might have brought in more talent there than at any other position as well.