By the time Tony Benford was hired as North Texas’ new head basketball coach late last month, his options for ways to revamp the Mean Green’s roster were limited.
Time during the late signing period — not to mention scholarships — was in short supply.
The former Marquette assistant coach got a little creative and landed two players he thinks will help the Mean Green immediately anyway.
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place Tuesday when UNT announced that Keith Coleman, a 6-foot-10 post player, had signed with the Mean Green.
“There is no doubt we are excited,” Benford said. “He is arguably one of the best [junior college] big guys in the country. He is athletic and strong. He will take a lot of pressure off Tony Mitchell. He is that missing piece we didn’t have. He can run the floor and rebounds. He is a great fit. When you have a really good nucleus coming back, you want to bring in winners, guys who will be good teammates, good chemistry guys and also good players. He is all of those things.”
Coleman spent last season at Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College, where he averaged 8.0 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. He was an honorable mention All-Region 11 selection.
Coleman visited UNT, along with Houston Christian Life point guard P.J. Hardwick, shortly after Benford took over for Johnny Jones, who left after 11 seasons to become the head coach at LSU.
“When I came to North Texas, it really felt like home,” Coleman said. “From coach Benford to Tony Mitchell and the rest of the guys, I really had a great connection with all of them.”
Both Coleman and Hardwick ended up signing with UNT.
“The way that we want to play, I feel really good about it,” Benford said of his revamped roster. “We have great balance and good guard play. We will be able to cut down on our turnovers and our rebounding will improve. We are also deep.”
UNT had room for both Coleman and Hardwick after cutting ties with Forrest Robinson and John Odoh.
Robinson, a 6-10 forward, played in only 16 games last season, while Odoh signed with UNT during the early period while Jones was still coach.
Robinson was released from his scholarship before Benford arrived at UNT; Benford released Odoh. Hill College coach Swede Trenkle said Odoh was unsure if he wanted to continue his career at UNT after the coaching change.
Odoh, a 6-10 center, was an honorable mention JUCO All-American last season at Hill College, and was considered a key piece of UNT’s recruiting class that also includes Argyle guard Clarke Overlander. UNT signed Odoh largely to free up Mitchell to play more on the wing after earning Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season.
Parting ways with Odoh left UNT without many options in the post, especially after seniors Kedrick Hogans and Alonzo Edwards completed their careers last season.
Benford said that UNT’s release of Odoh will include a restriction that will prevent him from signing with LSU.
UNT expects Coleman, who has three years of eligibility remaining, to help fill the void left by Odoh and capitalize on his considerable potential.
Coleman played at Lee Academy, a prep school in Maine, and was rated No. 23 among centers in the country by Scout.com and No. 37 by Rivals.com as a senior.
Coleman committed early to Nebraska before his lone season in junior college but was released from his scholarship after a coaching change at the school.
“That is really a good get for them,” said Mike Mitchell, who plays host to an annual junior college tournament in Dallas. “He was being heavily recruited by Big East and Big 12 schools. I thought he was a good get for Nebraska. I was surprised at his stats in his first year in junior college. Sometimes junior college basketball is a guard-dominated game and sometimes guys come along slower.”
UNT will look to help Coleman capitalize on his vast potential that was evident not only to Benford, but also to his close friend David Anwar, who was on the staff at Nebraska that recruited Coleman.
“Keith is a high-major player and a starter in any BCS conference,” Benford said. “That is how good I think he is.”
The fact Coleman immediately hit it off with Mitchell, whom he is expected to help develop as a player by allowing him to play away from the basket, only helped matters as UNT moves forward with what Benford believes is an improved team.
“It can always change,” Benford said. “But we feel good about where our roster is right now.”
UNT signs JUCO guard
UNT announced Tuesday that Weatherford College guard Hannah Christian has signed with the Mean Green.
Christian ranked third nationally among junior college players last season with an average of 7.6 assists a game.
The former Aledo standout began her career at TCU.
“She has a great basketball IQ and a great feel for the game, which makes her a complete player,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “What makes Hannah so great is that she can score, distribute and is so versatile on the floor that she is hard to stop.”
Christian was the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year last season, when she was a second-team all-league selection. She averaged 8.3 points a game last season.
Christian scored 2,537 points in her career at Aledo and was a three-time all-state selection.
She will have two years of eligibility remaining at UNT.
Fraley named all-SBC
Senior Maddelyn Fraley was named first-team All-Sun Belt Conference on Tuesday night.
Fraley was selected as a utility player after hitting .333 with 12 home runs.
UNT seeded fifth
The UNT men’s golf team will play in the Kentucky Regional of the NCAA tournament at The Club at Olde Stone golf course May 17-19 in Bowling Green.
UNT is the fifth seed in the region and is ranked No. 26 in the nation by Golfstat.com. The top five teams and the top individual not on one of those teams in the regional advance to the final rounds May 29-June 3 at Rivera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
UNT won the Sun Belt title earlier this season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .