North Texas traded one frontcourt player for another Tuesday in a move that will help reshape the Mean Green’s roster heading into the 2014-15 season.
Kelvin Gaines, a center who was set to be a senior in the fall, confirmed that he is leaving the program and forgoing his final year of eligibility to pursue a professional career. Gaines’ departure opened up a scholarship that UNT immediately filled when Muhammed Ahmed, a forward from Gillette (Wyo.) College, committed to play for the Mean Green.
Gaines transferred to UNT from Cincinnati, where he spent three years and picked up his bachelor’s degree. The 6-10 Florida native was expected to make a major impact for UNT but suffered a preseason foot injury, underwent surgery and ended up averaging 0.6 points and 1.5 rebounds a game in his only season with the Mean Green.
“The coaching staff was very supportive,” Gaines said. “I want to give it [playing professionally] a try while I am healthy. The experience of the staff and what they have taught me have helped me develop as a person and a player.”
Gaines said he will prepare for the next few months in the U.S. before likely heading overseas to play.
UNT coach Tony Benford said he understood Gaines’ decision and will help him find a place to play. Former UNT standout Roger Franklin is playing in Europe after playing his final season with the Mean Green under Benford.
“You don’t have a long time to play this game,” Benford said. “He has his degree and wants to go pursue playing overseas. We will help him do that.”
Ahmed could help UNT fill the void left by Gaines.
The 6-7 forward averaged 17.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season, a performance that earned him first-team All-Region IX honors. Ahmed has two years of eligibility remaining.
Ahmed, who is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., said he was offered scholarships by more than a dozen schools in several leagues, including the Missouri Valley, Horizon and Mid-American.
Ahmed named his relationship with Benford and assistant coach David Anwar as a key factor in his decision to commit to UNT. Oral commitments are nonbinding. The late signing period begins April 16.
“North Texas felt like it was the best place for me as far as the people, the academics and basketball,” Ahmed said. “I have a good relationship with the coaches, and I felt good about it when I met some of the players on my visit.”
UNT finished 16-16 last season and ranked 14th out of 16 teams in Conference USA during league play with a deficit of 2.9 rebounds a game.
Gillette coach Shawn Neary said Ahmed could be a key addition for the Mean Green and help it address some of its weaknesses.
“He is a really good player and had a great year for us,” Neary said. “He is great defensively and can guard any position on the floor. Offensively, he is really hard to guard. He can score outside and inside and rebound.”
Gillette finished the season ranked ninth in the NJCAA poll.
Ahmed took just one recruiting visit. Once he saw UNT, he quickly decided he didn’t need to visit any other schools.
“There was a lot of interest in him,” Neary said. “What stands out about Ahmed is he’s a quality person in addition to being an outstanding player.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.