North Texas has enjoyed a lot of success in postseason tournaments over the last few years under head coach Johnny Jones.
The Mean Green will play in one of the biggest events of the opening weeks of next season because of it.
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal confirmed Wednesday that the Mean Green will play in the 2012 Preseason NIT. The event that has been around since 1985 usually features some of the top-ranked teams in the country.
“If you look around at the other teams that have gotten into the Preseason NIT and look at our success over the last five or six years with 20-win seasons and going to the conference championship, it’s comparable,” Villarreal said.
UNT advanced to the finals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament despite a tumultuous season and finished 18-14 after falling in a tight game to Western Kentucky. The Mean Green advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010 and won at least 20 games in five straight seasons before coming up just short of the mark this year.
UNT faced what looked like rebuilding season but got on a roll behind young players such as Tony Mitchell.
The 6-8 forward was named the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year and also was a first-team All-Sun Belt pick.
Mitchell averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game after becoming eligible at the end of the first semester.
The former Dallas Pinkston standout is a top NBA prospect and is considering whether or not to enter the draft.
UNT could have one of the top teams in the Sun Belt if Mitchell returns along with a few other key players. Freshmen Chris Jones and Jordan Williams were not academically eligible for the second semester but are expected to return next season.
UNT would have all of its top seven scorers back if all three return.
“If Tony was to come back and we are at full strength, we are an attractive team and one that is fun to watch,” Villarreal said. “We have a player who is among the best in the country. All those factors helped us get an invite.”
Johnny Jones is coaching at this Final Four this weekend, where he will team up with mentor Dale Brown to coach the West team in the Reese’s College All-Star Game at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Villarreal credited the exposure the program has garnered over the last few seasons with helping UNT land the Preseason NIT bid.
Syracuse won the tournament this season and advanced to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
“It shows that we have reached a certain level and that people out there know who we are,” Villarreal said. “The NIT has a long history. It speaks volumes about how much our program has grown.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .