Chris Jones and Jordan Williams, two key members of North Texas' highly rated freshman class who have started most of this season, did not meet academic eligibility requirements in the first semester of the school year and will not play for the Mean Green the remainder of the season, head coach Johnny Jones confirmed Tuesday.
Both players will remain with the team, practice and work to regain their eligibility heading into next season.
Chris Jones is averaging 14.1 points a game, a total that ranks sixth in the Sun Belt Conference and ties him for the team lead with fellow freshman Tony Mitchell. Williams is averaging 10.9 points a game.
Jones has started all 19 of UNT's games at point guard, while Williams, a small forward, started 13. Both just completed their first semester at UNT.
"This is disappointing for all of us, especially Chris and Jordan," Johnny Jones said. "They both understand that they have fallen short of their academic responsibilities, and our immediate attention will be to get them back on track toward earning their degrees."
UNT held out hope that both players could work through their situations before the beginning of the second term and meet NCAA requirements for progress toward their degree after one semester. Both exhausted their avenues to improve their academic standing by Tuesday afternoon.
UNT has rarely had problems with academic performance under Johnny Jones, who is in his 11th season with the Mean Green. Jones has not had a high school recruit complete his college eligibility without graduating during his time at UNT.
"This is unfortunate and it is inconsistent with the excellent academic track record that coach Jones has established, and [with] the mission of the University of North Texas and its athletics department," UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said in a prepared statement. "We provide our student-athletes with all of the tools they need to be successful in the classroom, and it is incumbent upon them to use these tools to their advantage."
Losing Williams and Chris Jones will be a serious blow for a team that appeared to be hitting its stride over the last few weeks. UNT (11-8) has won four of its last five games while settling in with a new-look lineup.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-8 forward who is among the most highly regarded players ever to sign with UNT, became eligible at the semester break after enrolling at the school last January and has played in only 10 games.
UNT now will have to go through another adjustment process in a season that has been filled with injury and eligibility issues.
UNT found out that Justin Patton, a forward who transferred from Grambling before the season, was ineligible to play because of his academic record prior to his arrival in Denton.
The Mean Green then lost key reserve Jacob Holmen to a concussion and Kedrick Hogans to a knee injury that required surgery. Hogans is the only returning starter from last season, when UNT reached the Sun Belt tournament final.
Johnny Jones said Holmen could return next week.
"We will have to try to manage the situation the best that we possibly can," Johnny Jones said. "It's nothing that you go into the season prepared for."
The Mean Green is left with only three scholarship guards who are healthy and eligible: Alzee Williams, Brandan Walton and Trey Norris.
Johnny Jones said he will not look to add walk-ons to the roster this late in the season.
Alzee Williams has started UNT's last 17 games, while Walton has started the last five.
UNT likely will turn to Norris at point guard, although Alzee Williams has started at point guard at times throughout his career.
"I feel like I can produce more for the team as my minutes go up," Norris said. "The time that I have played has showed me what I need to work on. I have learned from Coach Jones and my teammates that I need to make the easy play and not try to make the hard play all the time. That has helped me a lot."
Norris also was a member of UNT's 2011 recruiting class - regarded as one of the best in recent school history.
Jordan Williams and Chris Jones were ranked seventh and 24th, respectively, among players in the class of 2011 by TexasHoops.com. Forward Forrest Robinson was No. 23 and Norris No. 34, giving UNT four recruits ranked among the top 40 in the state by the website.
UNT later added Mitchell, Walton, Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin and Lon Morris forward Niko Stojiljkovic
UNT hoped the group would help the Mean Green extend a run of five straight 20-win seasons, and Jordan Williams and Chris Jones showed signs that they could help the Mean Green do just that. Jones scored in double figures in 14 of UNT's games, while Williams reached that mark in 11 games.
But now they will sit out the rest of the year.
"Both of them are disappointed," Johnny Jones said. "They are looking forward to accepting the challenge and making sure that they get back on track."
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.