P.J. Hardwick, a freshman guard who started 17 games this season, has elected to leave North Texas and transfer to another school.
UNT men’s coach Tony Benford confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Hardwick would not return to UNT for his sophomore season.
“P.J. has decided to make a move for an opportunity at a better role,” Benford said. “I talked to him and his dad, and he is going to transfer. We wish him the best and appreciate the contributions he made this year. He’s a good kid and a hard worker.”
Hardwick averaged 3.7 points per game and led UNT with 81 assists in his only season with the Mean Green. He became UNT’s starter at point guard when Chris Jones broke his foot in a loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 29.
“I want to thank the University of North Texas, because it has been a blessing to play here,” Hardwick said in a statement. “I want to thank my teammates and the entire coaching staff, and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Hardwick was the first recruit Benford signed after taking over the program following the 2011-12 season. He is the third player to leave the program since the fall.
Trey Norris transferred to South Dakota before the season started. Former Argyle standout Clarke Overlander announced March 27 that he also is leaving the program.
“We want to keep all the kids who sign,” Benford said. “Having players transfer is part of it. I signed several kids at Marquette who left. When I was at Nebraska and Arizona State, we had players transfer. Sometimes things don’t work out. Kids are not satisfied with their role or their playing time. The program goes on. We will sign quality players.”
Benford knew heading into his first season at UNT that his team would face a rebuilding project this summer following the departure of several key players. UNT had four seniors on its roster who completed their careers this season, including starter and team captain Roger Franklin.
Sophomore Tony Mitchell declared for the NBA draft shortly after the season.
The departures of Overlander and Hardwick in addition to Mitchell and UNT’s seniors leave the Mean Green with just six players scheduled to return.
“Turnover does not make a lot of difference necessarily,” Benford said. “We knew we were going to have to turn the roster over because of the seniors and Tony Mitchell.”
While UNT lost several key members of its team, Benford said he has the basis of a solid backcourt returning.
Jordan Williams led UNT with an average of 14.2 points per game and will return along with Alzee Williams (11.1 points a game) and Jones (9.2 points and 4.6 assists). Shooting guard Brandan Walton broke his foot in UNT’s season opener, took a redshirt and will be back in 2013-14 after averaging 8.8 points per game in the 2011-12 season. Walton was one of UNT’s best outside shooters, hitting 36.7 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“We are going to be fine,” Benford said. “In Conference USA, our guards are going to be as good as anyone’s in the league.”
Benford said that he will add two or three guards to the roster before next season.
“If you look at the way the college game is going, you have to have guards,” Benford said. “I am never going to be caught again without guys who can shoot from the perimeter, pass the ball and create shots for themselves and their teammates. That put a lot of pressure on Tony Mitchell and Roger Franklin.”
McCarney pleased with progress in spring
UNT coach Dan McCarney said that he has been pleased with the Mean Green’s progress in spring practice during his spring wrap-up press conference Tuesday.
UNT will hold its annual spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
“If you really get good at fundamentals and learn the system so that you can play with confidence and then master things that take no talent whatsoever — that is effort, that is toughness and that is the ability to communicate with your coaches and teammates — that is a really good start for 2013,” McCarney said. “We have done a good job of that. I really like where we are at right now.”
While McCarney was pleased with UNT’s progress in general, he did single out a few players who performed particularly well, including defensive end Chad Polk and cornerback Kenny Buyers.
Polk made the move from linebacker to defensive end in the spring and is working with UNT’s first-team defense despite being undersized at 6-feet and 226 pounds. UNT is missing five defensive linemen who were on its two-deep depth chart heading into spring due to injury.
“He was a linebacker we couldn’t win with,” McCarney said. “Suddenly we put him at defensive end and we can win with him. I don’t care who comes off the injury list — he’s going to make it hard for whoever comes back to be a No. 1. He is a really good football player.”
UNT’s coaches also have been pleased with the progress of Buyers, a walk-on who has worked his way up the depth chart.
“We have him and Zac Whitfield on the same line,” McCarney said. “It is not something that is phony and fake and a way to motivate Zac Whitfield. That is what we see in practice. I am proud of him.”
McCarney also singled out defensive tackle Richard Abbe, centers Kaydon Kirby and Shawn McKinney and backup running backs Mark Lewis and Rex Rollins as players who have performed well in practice.
Kirby is listed as UNT’s starter heading into today’s practice.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.