Kelvin Gaines has watched a lot of basketball over the last two years. In the next couple of days, the North Texas junior will have a chance to participate once again.
The 6-10 center endured an injury-plagued final season at Cincinnati before transferring to North Texas, where he has missed the Mean Green’s first nine games of the year following surgery to treat a stress fracture in his foot.
Gaines’ recovery is a day-to-day process and could reach the special point of his UNT debut today, when the Mean Green men’s and women’s teams will play rare Sunday afternoon games.
The UNT men (5-4) will face Stephen F. Austin (8-2) at 1 p.m. at the Super Pit, while the UNT women (4-4) will take on Northern Colorado (4-3) at 3 p.m. in Greeley, Colo.
Gaines returned to practice this week, ending a long stint of standing on the sideline in a walking boot.
“I don’t worry about rust,” Gaines said. “I have practiced for a few days and looked pretty good. What I have to do is play with the guys and build chemistry with them. That is all I’m worried about. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with them much.”
UNT is hoping the addition of Gaines will help the Mean Green get back on track following a 97-67 loss at BYU in its last game Dec. 3.
UNT was on a bit of a roll before its loss to the Cougars, winning three straight despite a series of injuries that has prevented the Mean Green from having its full complement of players working together for much of the season.
T.J. Taylor missed practice time and two games early in the year due to injury. UNT coach Tony Benford said the Mean Green has had all of its players available for practice just three times.
UNT’s coaches and players say that having everyone available and healthy will help the Mean Green as it continues a tough two-game stretch today.
SFA has won five straight and has continued to be a solid defensive team under first-year head coach Brad Underwood. The Lumberjacks are allowing just 65.9 points per game.
“They have some guys back with a good defensive mindset and they are also good offensively,” Benford said. “They are a little undersized, but they will be the most skilled and one of the best-shooting teams we have faced.”
Senior guard Deshaunt Walker and sophomore guard Thomas Walkup are averaging 10.2 and 10.1 points per game, respectively, to lead SFA.
Senior guard Alzee Williams and junior guard Jordan Williams are averaging 15.1 and 11.7 points, respectively, for UNT, which expects a boost from Gaines’ debut today.
“He will help us, mainly defensively,” UNT junior forward Colin Voss said. “He is a smart player and an intense player. He elevates everyone’s game and everyone’s energy. He has played at a high level.”
Benford says Gaines’ basketball smarts could make a big difference for the Mean Green.
“He is a great screener and rebounder,” Benford said. “It’s not so much scoring — he does the little things that it takes to win.
“He is our best defensive post. He can guard the paint. He may use up all five fouls, but he isn’t going to give up any layups at the basket. He also sets a lot of really good screens.”
The UNT women also are coming off a tough loss in their last game before a break for final exams, a 95-47 beating at the hands of No. 19 Oklahoma State.
UNT has lost two straight and could face another tough game today against Northern Colorado, which is 3-1 at home and has won two straight behind Stephanie Lee. The junior center is averaging 21.0 points per game.
Junior forward Briesha Wynn is averaging 12.4 points to pace UNT.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.