North Texas head coach Tony Benford and assistant David Anwar spent a lot of time talking with and visiting Armani Flannigan up in Riverton, Wyo.
That dedication paid off when UNT signed the 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward to a national letter of intent this week.
Flannigan averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, when he earned second-team All-Region IX honors.
“I built a great relationship with the coaching staff,” Flannigan said Tuesday. “They showed me a lot of love. Tony Mitchell being there and having success was part of it. I modeled my game after his. They see me playing a similar role. They will have me play inside and outside.”
Flannigan was remarkably consistent for Central Wyoming, scoring in double figures in all but five of the 25 games he played last season while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor.
“He’s very athletic and changes the games in a lot of ways,“ Central Wyoming coach Shelby Lindley said. “He’s a good rebounder and is one one of the most athletic kids in junior college.”
Lindley said that Flannigan can score in the post and has shooting range that extends to 17 feet.
Washington State, Oklahoma and Nebraska were among the schools that showed interest in Flannigan, who was a third-team All-Illinois Basketball Coaches Association selection as a senior at Boylan High in Rockford, Ill.
Flannigan said that he needed to earn his associate degree before continuing his career at the Division I level.
Central Wyoming finished 22-6 last season and lost to Otero Junior College in the second round of the Region IX tournament.
Flanigan scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a first-round win over Trinidad State before finishing with 17 points and six rebounds against Otero.
Lindley said several programs backed off recruiting Flannigan because it was obvious that his heart was set on UNT. Flannigan had never been to Texas before his official visit to UNT last weekend, but he does have relatives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Flannigan could help fill an immediate need for UNT, which lost its top two frontcourt players in Mitchell and Roger Franklin after last season. Mitchell declared for the NBA draft, and Franklin was a senior. UNT has just one player taller than 6-6 returning in backup center Keith Coleman, although it does have high school forwards Greg Wesley and Josh Friar arriving in the fall in addition to high school center Tony Nunn.
Mitchell averaged 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, while Franklin added 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Lindley said he believes Flannigan can help fill that void.
“He’s an unbelievable kid and a gym rat,” Lindley said. “He’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for.”
That talent attracted the attention of several programs. Flannigan just felt like UNT was the best fit.
“The coaches at North Texas have been recruiting me a long time,” Flannigan said. “I turned down a lot of schools because of the relationship I have with them.”
Lama: Meeting helped push UNT to tournament title
Sujay Lama could feel the pressure mounting as UNT advanced round by round through the Sun Belt Conference tournament last week.
UNT was ranked 60th nationally, was the defending champion and a heavy favorite to repeat.
Those circumstances led Lama to pull his team together Saturday night, a move he credited this week with helping the Mean Green come through with a 4-2 win over Georgia State in the finals.
The win gave UNT its third Sun Belt title in four years and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
“We had a team meeting on Saturday night,” Lama said. “I knew I had to do something to take that pressure off. I had everyone talk — players, coaches, even the athletic trainer. By the time everyone talked, you could see the pressure coming off.”
That conversation inside Lama’s hotel room in Lafayette, La., was just one way in which UNT prepared for the finals.
Lama then had his team watch “Who Am I? I’m a Champion,” a video that showed highlights of UNT’s players coming through in key situations.
The team decided to wrap up the night with a prayer led by freshman Dané Joubert.
“At that point, I felt like good things are going to happen,” Lama said. “Everyone was at peace and was settled. We were ready to go.”
UNT played one of its best matches in the final round, winning the doubles point before Valentina Starkova and seniors Ilona Serchenko and Barbora Vykydalova won their singles matches.
Serchenko and Vykydalova won consecutive matches after GSU had come back to tie the match at 2.
UNT had come through in key spots throughout the year and pulled through again when it mattered most.
“It seems like everything has gone our way,” Lama said. “We have won something like 18 doubles points in the 23 matches we have played. How often do you have that kind of winning percentage in doubles? That gives you a lot of confidence. We have won all of our 4-3 matches, and we have great chemistry.”
One of those close calls came against South Alabama in the semifinals, when Vykydalova beat Mariya Krachok 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in the decisive match to give UNT its latest 4-3 win.
“We got everyone’s best shot,” Lama said. “South Alabama played 10 out of 10. We played at 6 out of 10 of what we were capable of. We were tight but found a way to get out of it.”
That prompted Lama to pull out all the motivational stops to get his team in the right frame of mind for its finals match against GSU.
UNT was the Sun Belt champion again when that move paid off Sunday.
Lama named Sun Belt Coach of the Year
Lama was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year after leading UNT to the Sun Belt tournament title.
UNT has won back-to-back SBC titles and three tournament titles in the last four seasons.
The Mean Green is No. 60 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Poll and has been ranked as high as No. 47 this season.
“I am honored and humbled to accept this award on behalf of our team,” Lama said in a statement. “This is truly a reflection of the hard work put in by our ladies, coaching and support staff. I am thankful and blessed to be doing what I love.”
Lama also was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012 and is the first coach in program history to win the honor three times.
UNT to host selection party
UNT will host a selection show for its tennis team at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the club level of Apogee Stadium.
The NCAA produces a show each season when the bracket for the national tournament is announced. UNT’s players gathered to watch the show last season after earning an NCAA bid.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.