Thoughts on the departure of Keith Coleman

Former North Texas forward Keith Coleman drops the ball in the basket during a game at the Super Pit. UNT is working toward featuring a smaller and more athletic team after the departure of Coleman and fellow 6-10 center Kelvin Gaines.

One of the more unusual careers in the recent history of UNT basketball came to an end today. Keith Coleman, a 6-10 center, is leaving the program after his junior season, coach Tony Benford confirmed.

Coleman never made the impact UNT had hoped for in his time with the Mean Green. He averaged 3.0 points and 3.4 rebounds last season, his best year at UNT.

Coleman was in a tough spot from the beginning.

The JC transfer arrived in Benford’s first season after John Odo, a highly regarded center who led the nation in rebounding among junior college players, backed out of a commitment to UNT to follow Johnny Jones to LSU.

Coleman essentially filled Odo’s spot and faced the weight of expectations from the beginning after Benford called him a “Big East quality center.” UNT doubled down after he had a tough first season at the school and declared him the most improved player on the team.

Neither Coleman nor Odo had a huge impact on their teams, although Odo was part of an LSU squad that made the postseason and won a game in the NIT this year.

The question now for UNT is where it goes from here.

UNT will be decidedly smaller after the departure of not only Coleman, but also Kelvin Gaines, another 6-10 center who elected to turn pro.

That’s OK as far as Benford is concerned as UNT enters its second season in Conference USA.

“If you look at this league, you need really good guards and versatile bigs,” Benford said. “This league is based on speed and quickness. If you are going to be at the top of the league, you have to have guys who can guard good guards and created their own shots. Your bigs have to be mobile and be able to rebound and defend.”

Benford pointed to Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech as examples.

He has a point.

La. Tech had 6-9 forward Michale Kyser, who averaged 7.0 points and 6.6 rebounds in addition to swatting 109 shots, but didn’t have a ton of bigs who contributed much outside of him.

Southern Miss featured 6-7 forward Daveon Boardingham, who averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. Michael Craig, a 6-5 forward, pulled down 7.5 rebounds a game in addition to scoring 11.1 points a game.

“At times we played small ball,” Benford said. “That is how we are trending, but you still have to have balance depending on who you are playing.”

UNT’s problem all along was that it frequently struggled in the paint and didn’t have that balance. UNT finished with an average of 2.9 fewer rebounds than its opponents in conference play. I have mentioned that stat quite a bit, but it as a telling one.

Colin Voss was solid for UNT all year long, averaging 7.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, but it was Jordan Williams, a 6-6 wing who led UNT in rebounding at 6.3 a game. No one other than those two averaged more than 3.7 boards a game.

Southern Miss had five guys who averaged at least 3.7 boards a game.

Teams can go small and succeed in C-USA, but it takes the right kind of guys to do it. And it certainly helps to have one or two athletic big guys who can play in that kind of system.

Southern Miss had them. So did Louisiana Tech.

UNT didn’t.

As UNT trended toward a smaller, quicker lineup, Gaines and Coleman seemed like less and less of a fit.

UNT landed 6-foot-7 JUCO forward Muhammed Ahmed of Gillette College in Wyoming recently and will also add 6-foot-6 forward Jeremy Combs and 6-foot-7 forward Greg Wesley, who sat out last season. All three are supposed to be highly athletic.

Those are the types of players UNT is going to need to play in an up-tempo system as opposed to guys like Coleman and Gaines.

UNT has changed course to a certain extent since Benford took over the program and talked about building a team built on defense and dominating on the glass.

A team doesn’t need great size excel at either, but it certainly helps.

UNT will look at add a little size late. Paris JC forward Nouhoum Bocoum will be in for a visit this weekend. Benford said UNT will have one center type on the roster, maybe two.

UNT is rolling the dice on rolling out there next season with what will be a smaller, more athletic team following the departure of Coleman.

It’s the Southern Miss/Louisiana Tech model.

After what has transpired the last couple of weeks, it’s clear its the UNT model now as well.

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