North Texas finished up the conventional aspects of its summer workouts Thursday and won’t hoist another shot or run through another offensive set before the beginning of practice in September.
But that doesn’t mean UNT is done preparing for what is expected to be a special season this fall.
New UNT head coach Tony Benford made sure of that when he arranged for noted sports psychologist Dr. Joe Carr to put his players through a three-day program designed to improve the Mean Green’s team chemistry.
UNT began the program Friday.
“My job is to get the players to make sacrifices for the sake of the team,” Carr said.“The teams that win are usually the ones that make the most sacrifices. The teams that lose are the ones that do what they want to do. If we can get these guys to develop some blind trust and buy into [Benford’s] principles, they are going to outplay a lot of people. They are playing for something else, and that is for each other.”
Benford has worked with Carr throughout his coaching career, including last season when he was an assistant coach at Marquette.
Carr helped establish the NBA’s rookie orientation program and works with multiple teams in both the NBA and in the college ranks.
Carr will follow UNT throughout the season and make multiple follow-up visits.
Benford said that the mental aspect of the game and developing team chemistry are always vital and could be even more important for UNT as it makes the transition to a new coaching staff. Former UNT head coach Johnny Jones left after last season to take over as the head coach at LSU.
Since taking over as head coach in April, Benford has been trying to put his stamp on what has been a highly successful team that has averaged 21 wins over the last six seasons.
The NCAA rule that went into effect this year allowing teams to have limited practices over the summer helped Benford reach that goal.
“We did make some progress,” Benford said. “What really helped is that we have a great coaching staff with coach [Rob] Evans, coach [Bart] Lundy, coach [David] Anwar and Jeff Luster. We have a lot of experience and were able to build that trust with the players. That was huge.”
UNT returns its top seven scorers from a team that lost to Western Kentucky in the final of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
Benford and his staff had to gain those players’ trust while incorporating a few new recruits who are expected to play key roles, including center Keith Coleman and point guard P.J. Hardwick.
“We got to know coach personally and how coach wants us to work,” Hardwick said. “We also got to know the system a little better and what our players can and can’t do. It’s been great. We have great chemistry. We are all like brothers.”
Hardwick is competing for playing time at point guard. Coleman could have an even bigger role. Benford added the 6-foot-10 center largely to fill the void in UNT’s roster created after post players Kedrick Hogans and Alonzo Edwards graduated following last season.
“The new guys are fitting in very well,” Mitchell said. “We are going to need everyone to go far in the [NCAA] tournament. They are all great players.”
Benford felt much better about how those players fit, not only with each other but also with a new staff after having some extra time to work with them over the summer.
“As a first-time head coach, it helped,” Benford said of having summer workouts. “We were able to work on the fundamentals — shooting, dribbling and passing — while also establishing our culture and how we are going to work every day. We are going to be the toughest team every time we step on the floor, and we are going to defend people. I wanted to put my imprint on how we are going to do things.”
Also Friday, UNT began working on developing the chemistry that will be critical to reaching its goals in the fall.
“This is a really special group,” Benford said. “We are a talented team with a talented upperclassmen group and a talented underclassmen group. Our job is to make sure that we have one unit and are close. That is why I brought Dr. Carr here, to work on the mental aspect of the game. He will talk about sacrificing and being coachable. We will have to sacrifice if we are going to have success.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .