Karen Blair spent nearly two years working to build up the program at Texas-Arlington, tutoring players and recruiting while serving as a Mavericks assistant coach.
At the end of her tenure, she even got a shot at an eight-game stint as interim head coach after Samantha Morrow resigned.
All that time in Arlington will make North Texas’ game against the Mavericks at 7:30 tonight awfully awkward for Blair, who, as a Mean Green assistant coach, will be on the visitors’ bench at College Park Center for the first time.
“It will be weird to walk in there and be on the visiting side,” Blair said. “It’s mixed emotions. Professionally, you want to win. Personally, you really want those kids to succeed. This is the one day I don’t get to cheer for them.”
Blair estimated that she coached about half the players who will be on the floor for the Mavericks tonight and recruited several of them.
That knowledge gives Blair insight into what makes those players tick, which could come in handy for UNT (3-4) as it looks to snap a two-game losing streak. The Mean Green blew a 17-point second-half lead in a 67-65 loss to Grand Canyon and was blown out 95-47 by No. 19 Oklahoma State on Sunday.
The Cowgirls have won 31 straight nonconference home games after knocking off UNT. The Mean Green certainly wasn’t the first team to struggle against OSU in Stillwater, but that didn’t make the way the game played out any easier for UNT.
Liz Donohoe hit seven 3-pointers for OSU.
“What I was disappointed in was when they got going and the crowd got going, it took some of our fight away,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “We lost the Donohoe kid a couple of times and she got on a roll, and when she gets on a roll, you are in trouble.”
UNT will look to bounce back tonight behind junior forward Briesha Wynn, who leads the Mean Green with an average of 11.6 points per game.
UTA (0-7) has yet to win but did take Virginia Commonwealth to overtime.
“They have played increasingly better as they have gone forward,” Petersen said.
Senior forward Briana Walker is averaging 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for UTA and is one of the players Blair knows well.
Blair said she still talks to several of UTA’s players but is careful to be respectful of Mavericks coach Krista Gerlich and her staff. Blair offers encouragement and little more to her former players.
“This is a resilient team,” Blair said of the Mavericks. “They are going to fight from the opening tip to the end of the game. That you can be assured of. Those kids are fighters.”
Hooker back in practice
Taylor Hooker has returned to practice after giving birth to daughter Madison Zachery on Oct. 28.
Petersen estimated that Hooker, who transferred to UNT from Tulsa and sat out last season, will be ready for the Mean Green’s game against Missouri State on Dec. 29.
Coach: Ivery ‘electric’
Sulphur Springs running back Willy Ivery received some good news not too long ago from an unexpected source — old friend and teammate Blake Macek.
Macek, UNT’s punter, was back in town, watching his old high school team practice, when Sulphur Springs head coach Greg Owens caught Ivery’s attention.
Ivery came running over and found out from Macek that UNT’s coaches had decided to offer him a scholarship. The 5-foot-9, 181-pound playmaker recently accepted that offer.
Ivery was recruited by UNT offensive line coach Mike Simmonds and also got to know offensive coordinator Mike Canales over the last few weeks.
“I have been talking to them since the beginning of the season, and the campus is close,” Ivery said. “I liked coach Simmonds and all the coaches. So did my parents.”
That comfort level led Ivery to commit to UNT over a host of other schools that offered him a scholarship, including New Mexico, New Mexico State, Colorado State, Texas State, Toledo and Houston.
Oral commitments are nonbinding. The first day recruits in the class of 2014 can sign national letters of intent is Feb. 5.
Ivery rushed for 2,653 yards, posted 1,977 receiving yards and scored 74 touchdowns in his high school career.
He was the Offensive MVP of District 14-4A as a junior and likely will be on the team again when it is released.
“You want to put the ball in his hands,” Owens said. “He knows where to go with it. He’s powerful and has great hands.”
Ivery is something of a tweener, which hurt his prospects when it came to recruiting. Owens said that there were several Big 12 and Southeastern Conference schools that liked Ivery’s abilities but believed he was too short to play wide receiver and not quite big enough to play running back on the major-college level.
UNT’s coaches told Ivery they plan to use him in multiple ways while lining him up primarily as a running back.
“They came over to the house last night and we talked about it,” Ivery said Monday of UNT’s coaches. “They want me to play like they played [former UNT running back] Lance Dunbar. They want me to play running back and then move me around.”
Ivery said UNT’s coaches are hoping he can put on another 10 pounds before his freshman season and contribute in his first year with the Mean Green, which has rotated multiple backs under head coach Dan McCarney.
“I like that they use a lot of running backs,” Ivery said. “That is good for the team.”
Ivery is just the latest Sulphur Springs player to decide to continue his career at UNT. In addition to Macek, starting guard Mason Y’Barbo also is a former Sulphur Springs standout.
Ivery saw Y’Barbo play while he was in middle school and got to know him better over the last few months. The more Ivery learned about UNT, the more he zeroed in on the school.
After waiting a few weeks to see if a Big 12 or SEC school would make an offer, Ivery decided that UNT was his best choice and committed.
“He is a unique and special player,” Owens said. “He is an electric force with the football in his hands.”
Nicholls State likely on slate for 2014
UNT is in the process of finalizing a contract with Nicholls State for a nonconference game in 2014, a school spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
McCarney mentioned during his weekly radio show Monday night that the Colonels will be on UNT’s schedule next season.
Nicholls State lost its final six games and finished in a tie for last place in the Southland Conference with Stephen F. Austin at 1-6. The Colonels were 4-8 on the season and lost 66-3 to Oregon and 70-7 to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Nicholls did knock off Western Michigan 27-23, giving the Colonels, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, a win over a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
UNT also is scheduled to travel to Texas and Indiana and host SMU in nonconference games next season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.