New North Texas head coach Mike Petersen brought Alexis Hyder into his office just a few weeks ago for one of those serious coach-player discussions.
Petersen equates what freshmen provide to what a lot of people slop on top of their holiday turkey at this time of the year, largely because it’s a bonus.
Freshmen are supposed to add a little flavor, make the meal a little better.
Petersen knew that if his team is to reach the level he hopes, Hyder must be a lot more than gravy.
“I asked her when she was a senior how many games she went to the gym and knew that if she didn’t play really well her team was going to lose,” Petersen said. “She said, ‘Before district? Zero.’ She has gone from being physically so much better than people playing on a really good team at Austin LBJ to being at the Division I level where every night you have to bring it. She doesn’t get that intermediate step where what she brings is gravy. She has to bring the meat and potatoes.”
So far, Hyder has been just that.
UNT’s freshman power forward is averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game heading into a showdown on the road at No. 13 Oklahoma tonight. Both totals rank second for a short-handed UNT team that has yet to have arguably its best player get into a game this season.
Senior post player Jasmine Godbolt is recovering from a knee injury and is expected to make her season debut when the Mean Green (2-5) returns home from Oklahoma (7-1) for a game against rival Texas-Arlington on Dec. 18.
Hyder has helped fill the void while scoring in double figures in four games, including a 16-point outing against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Mean Green’s Sun Belt Conference opener on Saturday.
That might sound very “potato-like” for a freshman, but Hyder believes she can provide a lot more.
“I feel like I have a little maturing to do to get to where coach wants me to be,” Hyder said. “I need to rebound better. My dad used to tell me to go get it and come back with it.”
That was the plan for Hyder when she arrived at UNT.
She just didn’t anticipate having to handle as much of the offensive load as she is because of Godbolt’s injury, but it was the opportunity to contribute early on that led her to commit to UNT.
Hyder was a two-time first-team all-state selection and once scored 61 points in a high school game.
Hyder had plenty of options when it came time to decide where to continue her career in college and was intrigued by the opportunity to contribute early at UNT.
Former head coach Karen Aston and her assistant Jalie Mitchell made Hyder a priority when they searched the state for players to build around.
“I wanted to come to a school where I could make a difference,” Hyder said. “I didn’t want to be just a role player. When I chose this school, I figured I would play big minutes.”
Hyder briefly considered backing out of her commitment to UNT after Aston and Mitchell left for Texas but decided to stand by her decision to sign with the Mean Green after talking to Mitchell and finding a comfort level with Petersen and his staff.
“I really liked coach Aston and coach Mitchell,” Hyder said. “Jalie became a role model for me. I talked to her and was comfortable with my decision afterward. Why not come here and play a big role instead of going to a Big 12 school where I may play?”
Hyder quickly established that she would be a key player for the Mean Green in preseason workouts and has continued to carve out a role while earning the trust of her teammates.
“She has been really good,” UNT junior guard Laura McCoy said. “She has given us points and rebounds. She has been really mature for a freshman and helped us out a lot.”
It’s Hyder’s varied skills that have made her so effective for UNT.
“She gives us a nice inside-out presence,” Petersen said. “She can handle, pass and shoot the ball from the perimeter. She is our best post-up player. When we run something for her in the post, she has a high delivery rate.”
Petersen asked for potatoes from Hyder. So far that is just what he has gotten.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .