Vertrail Vaughns left everything he knew in college basketball behind for a dream nearly a year ago.
The former George Mason guard wanted to play a little closer to home and see his father in the stands regularly for the first time in his college career.
Transferring to North Texas for his senior season provided the Mesquite graduate that opportunity, one he has quickly capitalized on heading into a game today at Tulsa.
Vaughns has developed into a key player for UNT, not only on the court but off it as well in his first and final season at the school.
“If you look around the country, a lot of teams have players who are coming in for one year,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “He has helped us off the court and in the locker room from a maturity standpoint. He is a great character guy and a great leader who is vocal.”
UNT will rely on Vaughns to provide a steadying influence again on what will be a key day for both the Mean Green’s men’s and women’s teams.
The UNT men (11-9, 2-4 Conference USA) enter their game at Tulsa — the opener of a three-game road swing — off a loss to Middle Tennessee, while the UNT women (8-12, 2-5) are aiming to break out of a two-game slide in a home game against UAB (11-8, 3-3).
Benford pointed to the fact that the Mean Green’s last two losses in C-USA play have come by a combined nine points as a sign that his team is close to breaking through heading into its game against the Golden Hurricane (9-11, 4-2).
Vaughns’ consistent contributions are one reason for Benford’s optimism. They also are a key reason Vaughns feels like he made the right decision when he transferred to UNT last spring.
The 6-foot-2 guard has started six games at UNT, is averaging 7.6 points per game and is one of the Mean Green’s most consistent players. He has scored at least five points in all but six of UNT’s 20 games, including the last seven.
“It has worked out the way I hoped,” Vaughns said. “I’m getting my education and a chance to play at a place I love every day.”
The fact that Vaughns’ father, Myron Vaughns, has been there pretty much every step of the way has only made the experience more rewarding. Vertrail Vaughn’s father, who missed so many of his son’s games at George Mason, hasn’t missed a UNT home game all year.
“That has been really cool for us,” Vertrail Vaughns said.
Vaughns spent four seasons at the Virginia school, including a redshirt year, and saw his career with the Patriots peak his sophomore season when he started all 33 games and averaged 8.8 points.
Vaughns’ playing time decreased his junior year, when he didn’t start a game and saw his scoring average dip to 5.0 points per game.
“I really liked being at George Mason,” Vaughns said. “It gave me a chance to be by myself. I learned a lot of things and grew up, but it was hard for me to get back home and see my mom.”
UNT offered Vaughns a chance to restart his career closer to home and take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows seniors who have already received their degree to transfer and enroll at another institution as a graduate student as long as the school the player is leaving does not offer the same graduate degree.
Vaughns is working toward a master’s degree while studying digitial communications and marketing and will graduate this summer.
Vaughns is close friends with former UNT standout Roger Franklin, who is playing overseas. That connection helped UNT’s staff foster a relationship with Vaughns, who has helped fill the leadership void left by Franklin’s departure.
UNT has six players who are in their first season playing for the Mean Green.
“Vertrail has made a big impact,” UNT guard Chris Jones said. “He has fit in perfectly. Whatever coach wants him to do, he does. He’s a combo guard who can come in and get his shot off or run the team.”
Jones said that Vaughns has become something of a coach on the floor and has helped him develop as a player, pointing out areas in which he can improve or ways he can adjust to make a bigger impact.
Vaughns tries to have that type of impact on all of UNT’s guards, including Alzee Williams, a senior who fills a similar role as a combo guard.
That is just the kind of impact Benford hoped Vaughns would make in his only season at UNT. It’s also what Vaughns envisioned when he decided to transfer and play his final year of college basketball in Texas.
“I feel like I’m able to lead by example,” Vaughns said. “I fit that role and challenge Alzee and Chris every day. We make each other better.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.