North Texas guard T.J. Taylor will be out four to six weeks after knee surgery. Taylor is expected to return for the regular season opener, but the practice time he will miss is another obstacle for UNT, which must rebuild its backcourt. (DRC file photo)
UNT received word from team doctors today that represented a classic case of good news-bad news.
First, the good news.
Senior guard T.J. Taylor’s knee surgery went well. He was experiencing some soreness and swelling. Doctors went in and cleaned the knee up.
Taylor will be out four to six weeks. UNT will open practice on Oct. 6 before its exhibition game on Nov. 10 against Oklahoma City. UNT opens the season on Oct. 14 with a home game against Arkansas-Monticello.
UNT believes Taylor will be ready to go when the season starts.
Now, the bad news.
Taylor is going to miss a ton of time in the preseason in a year UNT is going to have to rebuild its backcourt rotation and has a ton of questions to answer.
Here are the guys UNT has back
Jordan Williams, senior — 12.0 points, 6.3 rebounds a game
Williams led UNT in both scoring and rebounding and will be the Mean Green’s top returning player and one of the better guards in C-USA.
Maurice Aniefiok, junior, 6.7 points a game
One of the more talented players on UNT’s roster in terms of raw ability. Aniefiok is a good perimeter shooter who shot a team-best 37.1 percent from 3-point range last year.
T.J. Taylor, senior, 7.0 points a game
Taylor has all the talent in the world, but has never really put it together to become an elite player and is now on the shelf with a knee issue.
Williams is one of the more productive players UNT has rolled out there over the last several years. Head coach Tony Benford believes he will be among the best guards in C-USA this year.
The scary part for UNT is those guys are it in terms of experienced guards returning. No matter how one slices it and dices it, the Mean Green lost a ton of guards who contributed last year, including:
Alzee Williams — UNT’s second leading scorer as a senior at 11.1 points a game.
Chris Jones — UNT’s third leading scorer at 7.5 points a game and leader in assists with 127.
Vertrail Vaughns — The one-and-done fifth-year senior transfer averaged 7.3 points a game.
Brandan Walton — Hit team-high 42 3-pointers and averaged 7.2 points a game.
UNT was already going to depend on a host of newcomers to quickly develop, but will now have to lean even more on the following:
Todd Eaglin — Tyler JC point guard who ranked third among junior college players nationally with an average of 7.6 assists a game
DeAndre Harris — Tyler JC guard who sat out last season after averaging 13.5 points a game as a freshman
Carrington Ward — On his third college after averaging 16.0 points a game last season at San Jac
Greg White-Pittman — Louisiana Class 5A MVP who parted ways with Tulane before signing with UNT
J-Mychal Reese — UNT is hoping to get the Texas A&M transfer eligible this year, despite the fact he played six games last season with the Aggies before being dismissed
The bottom line is UNT has two good players coming back in Williams and Aniefiok and some good prospects arriving, but the overall situation was already ripe with questions and now includes another.
Knee surgery isn’t easy to come back from, even a minor one, in a short period of time. There is no way to know for sure if Taylor will be ready to start the season, and even if he is, he will have missed a ton of practice time.
The chances that he will be in good basketball shape are gone.
UNT also has no idea at this point if Reese will be eligible this year. He played last season at A&M. Even if he gets a waiver from the NCAA, he might not be eligible until the semester break.
That would leave Eaglin as UNT’s only true point guard. White-Pittman, a combo guard, might be the next closest thing to a second point guard UNT has.
Depending on newcomers is a dicey proposition at best. History shows us that. Taylor was expected to be an impact player last season, but averaged just 7.0 points a game in his first year with UNT.
Vertrail Vaughns (7.3 PPG), Colin Voss (7.3 PPG) and Maurice Aniefiok (6.7 PPG) were all solid, but weren’t huge difference makers in their first season with the Mean Green either.
Armani Flannigan struggled and averaged 2.4 points a game. Keith Coleman also struggled in his first year at UNT.
UNT will have to hope that it has a few guards come through this year because it was already going to lack experience. The situation seems a little even more perilous now with Taylor entering the season off knee surgery.