Kee declines comment on makeup of roster

UNT softball coach Tracey Kee (center) said this week that the makeup of her roster for next season would not be determined until sometime this summer and declined comment on the status of her returning players. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT softball coach Tracey Kee (center) said this week that the makeup of her roster for next season would not be determined until sometime this summer and declined comment on the status of her returning players. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT softball coach Tracey Kee declined to comment this week on the makeup of the Mean Green’s roster heading into the offseason.

UNT finished 19-31 in Kee’s second campaign and lost to Florida Atlantic in the opening round of the Conference USA softball tournament.

Kee said there were players scheduled to return whose status for next season had yet to be determined and that the makeup of the roster would not be set until this summer.

A UNT spokesman previously said that Kee was the only person who would comment on which players would return.

Kee declined to comment on the status of individual players.

The former East Carolina coach took over UNT’s program before the 2014 season and made an immediate impact by leading the Mean Green to a 31-22 record. UNT set a program record for wins in a season in Kee’s debut campaign and knocked off seventh-ranked Baylor early this season for arguably the biggest win in program history. UNT couldn’t build on the momentum that win provided and lost 16 of 18 late in the year.

That slide left UNT in danger of missing the conference tournament heading into the final weekend of C-USA play. The Mean Green needed to win at least two of their final three games of the regular season at home in a series against UTEP to advance to the postseason.

UNT swept the Miners in dominating fashion, winning all three games by at least six runs.

The Mean Green failed to carry that momentum over to the conference tournament, where they were fell to Florida Atlantic 5-0 in their opening game. That loss left Kee with the lowest win total of her career and just her third losing season in 17 years as a head coach.

Questions arose late in the season about the possibility that several players were considering leaving the team that continued since the end of the year.

UNT’s roster last season included several players who were leftover from the tenure of former head coach T.J. Hubbard, who left the program after six seasons.

Kee is 50-53 in two seasons at UNT.

UNT makes cut to five for Kouassi

Kouassi

Kouassi

UNT has made the cut to five for Kennesaw State graduate transfer Willy Kouassi and is in solid position in the race to land the 6-10 center, according to Darien Knox.

Kouassi’s legal guardian has helped him sort through his options since he elected to transfer and play his senior season at another school. Kouassi averaged 4.6 points and 5.0 rebounds a game last season at Kennesaw and is among the more highly sought after graduate transfers on the market.

Kouassi visited UNT in early May and is now scheduled to visit four additional schools over consecutive weekends beginning this week. Western Kentucky is up first with Arkansas, Memphis and Ole Miss to follow.

“Willy is no different than the other graduate transfers,” Knox said. “Coming from where he was, the opportunity to win is his No. 1 priority. With the core that UNT has coming back, if they add Willy, there is no reason they shouldn’t have success.”

UNT associate head coach Rob Evans has played a key role in the Mean Green’s efforts to land Kouassi. Evans and UNT coach Tony Benford have sold Kouassi on the idea that the Mean Green are poised to turn the corner after a 14-17 season behind a core that includes forward Jeremy Combs, returning wings Maurice Aniefiok and DeAndre Harris, Texas A&M transfer point guard J-Mychal Reese and incoming freshman Rickey Brice, a 6-11 center.

UNT’s coaches have told Kouassi that they see him as the missing piece after the Mean Green lost post players Collin Voss and Armani Flannigan to graduation.

UNT is seeking its first winning season under Benford in his fourth campaign with the Mean Green.

“If they add Willy, there is no reason they shouldn’t have success,” Knox said.

Benford said earlier this summer that he would like to add two post players to the Mean Green’s roster before the beginning of next season. Kouassi has been among the Mean Green’s top targets. He will pursue a graduate degree in sports management or a related field at the school he spends his senior season.

“We love coach Evans and feel like coach Benford could do a good job of developing Willy,” Knox said. “He wants to have a shot at the next level.”

UNT has just two players taller than 6-5 scheduled to return next season in Combs and Muhammed Ahmed, a pair of 6-7 forwards. Benford said he expects Brice to contribute right away like Combs did last season. Combs averaged 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds a game as a freshman and was a member of the All-Conference USA Freshman Team.

Kouassi would be a key addition to that group.

“Willy is 6-11 and has a 7-3 wing span,” Knox said. “He’s lean and is a strong rim protector. He’s a good guy and has a high motor.”

The question now is if the pitch UNT made to Kouassi will put the Mean Green over the top with two SEC schools, a traditional power in Memphis and one of Conference USA’s top programs in WKU also in the mix.

“It’s not about the name on the jersey,” Knox said. “It’s more about fit and people who will develop him.

“We have a strong relationship with coach Evans.”

Kouassi and Knox liked what they saw when they visited UNT, but have not set a timeline for a decision.

“We feel in love with the school,” Knox said. “Being from Alabama, we love softball and went to a game. We know about UNT and knew about what Johnny Jones did there.”

Looking back on a couple of UNT players who served on Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day, a time when we think back as a country on those who served in the Armed Forces.

The holiday brings up the interesting fact that UNT has featured a couple of players in the last decade or so who were members of the armed services before or during their time at UNT.

The name that immediately comes to mind is former UNT defensive end Brandon McCoy. His story is one UNT fans became familiar with not long ago. McCoy struggled in his high school years before joining the army. He served in the Middle East before walking on at UNT and developing into a key player  at defensive end for the Mean Green.

McCoy won the Armed Forces Merit Award in his senior season (the video from the award ceremony is at the top of this post)

And that is just the beginning when it comes to UNT athletes who have served.

Rich Young was one of the overlooked guys who did the dirty work for the first of Johnny Jones two NCAA tournament teams at UNT in 2007. Young served in the Marines before  before heading to junior college and then UNT.

Go back a little farther and UNT also featured Ilias Simpson, actually served in the U.S. Air Force while playing safety for the Mean Green.

UNT is in an advantageous position when it comes to giving non-traditional players a chance to play college sports. McCoy, Young and Simpson are just three examples of former UNT players who have taken advantage of the opportunities the school presents as a large public school in a metro area.

All three of those guys represented UNT well and made great contributions to their country.

Memorial Day seems like the perfect time to remember all three.

The Sunday leftovers (Kouassi visit list, DMN area top 100 in football, et cetera)

It’s Sunday night and time for the Leftovers, our weekly look back at what took place over the last few days that allows us to pick through the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

In case you missed it, last night we pointed out that the late signing period in basketball finished up this week.

UNT is hitting the transfer market to find some help in the paint. One guy on UNT’s radar all along has been former Kennesaw State forward Willy Kouassi. Alabama Alumni has been spot on in terms of tracking the noticeably mum post player and came out with his visit list this week. Kouassi has already visited UNT, but will also visit Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Memphis and Ole Miss.

The question now is if Kouassi will head back to the SEC, where he started out at Auburn, land in Conference USA at UNT or WKU, or head elsewhere.

The competition is going to be pretty tough for his services for a year.

And in other news, our friend Corbett Smith from The Dallas Morning News put out the Area Top 100 today. There is one player on the list who is listing UNT — defensive tackle Douglas Tucker of Parish Episcopal School in Dallas.

There is a long way to go. UNT typically has the most success in the weeks before national signing day and appears to be looking past DFW more these days.

Stay tuned on that front.

And in other random Texas football related news, rapper Drake showed up at Houston over the weekend, which created a bit of a stir.

And in a side note, the late signing period is over

Benford

Benford

The NCAA’s late signing period came to a close this week. The final day was Wednesday.

I bring it up because the UNT men’s basketball team is still in the market for some help in the paint. Tony Benford said that he would like to add two additional post players before the start of next season. The Mean Green are looking for players who will be eligible next season.

Grad transfer Willy Kouassi, who started out at Auburn and then graduated from Kennesaw State, remains a prime suspect.

UNT could still get a conventional high school/junior college signee in late. Kedrick Hogans was a late addition several years ago now.

It looks more and more likely that if UNT does manage to add some help late, though, it will be in the form of a graduate transfer. It’s a common move these days for players who have already graduated from a school and transfer to another one for their final year of eligibility.

With the late period over, it just seems less likely that UNT lands a high school/junior college player before next season.

A couple of rankings of college position units that include UNT

There were a couple of items of interest when it comes the inevitable string of summer rankings of teams and position groups on those teams that came out in the last couple days.

We already knew how well UNT’s offensive line has performed under Mike Simmonds over the last several years when it comes to protecting quarterbacks.

UNT led the country with seven sacks allowed a couple of years ago and came in among the national leaders in the list above that rates offensive line coaches and how well their units have performed.

What will be interesting to see is how UNT fares without several of the key players who made that accomplishment possible, including a couple who are now with NFL teams in Cyril Lemon and Antonio Johnson. UNT also lost a four-year starter at guard in Mason Y’Barbo.

And speaking of rankings, the Morning News came out with their ranking of the top linebacker groups among Texas college football teams today. UNT checked in at No. 11.

UNT lost Derek Akunne, arguably the best player on the team, after last season.

The Mean Green have several linebackers who have at least seen the field, and in some cases contributed quite a bit. Fred Scott, Sed Ellis and Calvin Minor have all contributed. JUCO transfer Cortney Finney also looks like he will live up to high expectations, judging from what he showed in the spring.

I rated UNT’s linebackers a little higher than the rest of the guys voting this year. We will find out this fall if they are in fact a bit under rated.

Mitchell’s contract approved, here are the details

New North Texas women's basketball coach Jalie Mitchell speaks at her introductory press conference last month at at Apogee Stadium. The UNT board of regents approved Mitchell's contract on Friday.

New North Texas women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell speaks at her introductory press conference last month at at Apogee Stadium. The UNT board of regents approved Mitchell’s contract on Friday.

New UNT women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell’s contract was approved by the school’s board of regents today.

Here are the details:

– Mitchell’s contract runs through April of 2019, making it a four-year deal.

– The contract starts out with Mitchell receiving a base salary of $155,000 a year.

– Mitchell’s base salary jumps to $165,000 a year on Sept. 1, 2017, and increases to a pro-rated $175,000 a year on Sept. 1, 2018, through the end of the deal. The total base salary for the entire contract is $656,250.

– There are several other incentives written into the contract, including …

1. $600 a month car allowance

2. $15,000 a year radio stipend

3. $90 a month cell phone stipend

– The total value of the contract is just more than $750,000

– If Mitchell severs the contact at any point, she will owe UNT $100,000

Former UNT coach Mike Petersen was making just less than $200,000 in base salary.

UNT track regional qualifiers, is Houston setting an example by keeping local players?

North Texas regional track qualifiers

Mona Landry long jump/100
Jazmine Martin triple jump
Shahaf Bareni high jump
Troy Taylor 1,500
Collin Heard 200, 4×400
Connor Bey 4×400
Caleb Pryor 4×400
Jamal Marshall 4×400
Kedron Sowells 4×400 (alternate)

The UNT track team announced that it has nine athletes headed to the NCAA Outdoor West Preliminaries beginning Thursday down in Austin.

UNT has elevated its program to the point it is sending athletes to the regional meet on a regular basis these days.

Mona Landry made it in both the long jump and the 100, while Collin Heard will compete in the 200 and the 4×400 relay.

UNT fans are already well aware of how fast Jamal Marshall is. He showed that speed at linebacker last season and made the move to cornerback during spring practice. The fact Marshall made UNT’s 4×400 relay team that qualified for the regional meet is just another indication that Marshall really is that fast.

And in other news, I found this story about new Houston coach Tom Herman saying he wants to build a fence around Houston when it comes to keeping top recruits interesting.

UNT has pulled a host of top recruits out of Houston over the years. It’s not like the Cougars are going to get every last recruit out of town. UNT will still pull key players from the Houston area.

The Houston situation will be interesting to watch, though, for the simple reason that the the Cougars are in a position similar to UNT when it comes to Denton County.

If Houston can land most of the players it wants out of H-town, it’s going to win and win big. I pointed out yesterday that Houston landed five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Well, today Houston added another local standout in nationally ranked guard Dixie Wooten III.

Believe me, if UNT can hang on to the best players in the Denton area, it will be in a great spot. Just look at this year’s NFL draft. Denton Ryan was one of 14 high schools nationally that produced multiple players selected in this year’s NFL draft. So who are some of the top greater Denton area players out there UNT can fence in?

Trophy Club tight end Kellen Diesch is one, as is his teammate, wide receiver/defensive end Brandon Bowen.  Flower Mound Marcus defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald is another top local prospect.

UNT has offered all three.

All three are probably out of UNT’s reach, but there is always a chance the Mean Green pull off a stunner like they did with Guyer tight end Kevin Dillman.

Stay tuned.

A couple of tidbits from college football

There were a couple of stories from the college football world today that caught my attention and might also be of interest for UNT fans.

First off, we are closing in on the point where UAB will make a decision on whether or not to reinstate its football program.

There were a couple of conflicting stories today. …

Al.com’s story covers both angles — a report that indicates a decision has been made and that UAB football is toast and another report that indicates a decision has not yet been made.

It will be an interesting story to follow that will have an impact on Conference USA and thus UNT.

If UAB does bring its football program back, it will come back with a whole lot of additional financial backing that could elevate UNT’s conference rival in the long-run. It would also keep an elite men’s basketball program in C-USA for the Mean Green to contend with.

And in other news, there was a bit of stunner in college football recruiting today.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the second-rated player in the state and the fifth-ranked defensive tackle in the country, committed to the hometown Houston Cougars.

It’s hard for a mid-major program to keep a hometown stud home, just ask UNT. The Mean Green have seen several leave town over the years, although UNT deserves a lot of credit for pulling off a bit of a stunner in keeping Guyer tight end Kevin Dillman around.

If Houston can see it through to the finish line and get Oliver to campus, he would likely become an immediate star. Oliver has offers from Alabama, Texas and LSU.

Interesting projection on C-USA, Looks like UNT has new assistant, et cetera

North Texas coach Dan McCarney and the Mean Green are hoping to bounce back from a 4-8 season this year.  (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas coach Dan McCarney and the Mean Green are hoping to bounce back from a 4-8 season this year. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

We are into that time of the summer when the projections for the upcoming football season start to roll out.

I bring it up because Billy Connelly of SB Nation came out with his advanced stats projection that weighs a program’s five-year history (if you were good before, chances are you will be again), returning starters and recruiting history.

Connelly has the same philosophy as I do. Highly rated and highly recruited players tend to be better than players who weren’t highly rated.

There are exceptions to the rule, but we are talking the big picture. I will bet on 20 five- and four-star guys to have a greater overall impact as a group than 20 two-star and unrated players.

Here’s Connelly’s ranking for Conference USA:

(National rank) Team Projected change
41. Marshall Down 20
50. Louisiana Tech Down 16
61. Western Kentucky Down 10
87. Middle Tennessee Staying at 87
88. Rice Down 12
99. UTEP Down 11
101. Florida Atlantic Down 4
107. Florida International Up 4
108. Southern Miss Down 5
110. Old Dominion Down 8
120. Charlotte Staying at 120
121. UTSA Down 11
125. North Texas Up 1

What really sinks UNT in this particular projection is having just one winning season in its last five, the loss of several starters and recruiting classes over the last few years that haven’t been particularly highly ranked.

I have a very hard time believing that UNT is one of the worst teams in the country. The Mean Green were regulars on ESPN’s Bottom 10 under Todd Dodge, but has improved dramatically since then under Dan McCarney.

Those projections will be a talking point, though.

I also had a feature story in today’s paper on Craig Robertson, a former UNT standout who has enjoyed a big season on the field with the Cleveland Browns and also hit some milestones off of it. He was named the Brown’s Man of the Year, married his UNT sweetheart and had a little girl.

Robertson was a great player for UNT in a dark era in program history.

It’s nice to see him doing well in the NFL.

And finally, it sounds like Jalie Mitchell has hired her final assistant coach. I mentioned in my Gainesville Caravan notes that Mitchell said that she was going to hire an additional coach to go along with Kasondra Foreman and Bobby Brasel.

Mitchell announced at today’s stop that she has hired Aisha Stewart, who was at Arkansas State for a year. I didn’t go to that particular stop. Hat tip to our friend Harry Miers who did and posted a note about it on GoMeanGreen.

I could be wrong about this, but I was at the neighborhood gym on the south end of town last night and thought, “Hey, that’s odd. There’s a woman here in an Arkansas State T-shirt.” The wife was rushing me out, so I didn’t get a chance to say hello. Now that I look at Stewart’s bio, I’m wondering if it might have been her.

The hire makes a lot of sense, when one looks closer at it. Stewart was a longtime assistant at South Alabama, where she worked with Brasel, before spending a year at Arkansas State.

Stewart replaces Tron Griffin, who was hired just a few weeks ago and is no longer on staff, from what I can tell.