Chris Jones is leaving North Texas after three seasons and will transfer to another school for his senior campaign.
Jones, who ranks among the top 10 players in UNT history in assists and steals, is in the process of finding another school at which he can complete his career, UNT coach Tony Benford confirmed Saturday afternoon.
“I want to thank Chris for his contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Benford said. “That is part of college basketball now with the number of players who are transferring.”
Jones, a 6-foot-2 point guard, could transfer to a Division II school and play next season or sit out the 2014-15 campaign before using his final year of eligibility.
The former Garland Lakeview Centennial standout did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. He ranked third among UNT players last season with an average of 7.5 points per game and led the team with 127 assists.
Jones ranked seventh among players in Conference USA with an average of 4.1 assists a game. His 127 career steals rank third in school history, while his 282 career assists rank sixth.
UNT’s rebuilding process in the backcourt this off-season becomes even more urgent with the departure of Jones.
UNT returns its leading scorer in shooting guard Jordan Williams, who averaged 12.0 points as a junior, but has lost its next four guards in terms of scoring average last season. Alzee Williams ranked second on the team at 11.1 points per game as a senior, while fellow seniors Vertrail Vaughns and Brandan Walton averaged 7.3 and 7.2 points, respectively.
UNT will look to a host of newcomers to fill the void, including Tyler Junior College point guard Todd Eaglin.
Eaglin was recruited by UNT as a point guard and will play a key role in filling the void left by the departure of Jones and Alzee Williams, who combined to handle the ball most of last season.
“We have a talented group and are excited about the new guys we are bringing in,” Benford said. “Our guards will be as good as any in the league. Jordan is an all-league player. Our wings are as talented as anyone’s in Conference USA. We also have a lot of guys who can handle the ball.”
Benford said UNT is still recruiting and could add additional players, although he feels confident that Eaglin can run the team from the point guard spot.
Jones handled that responsibility for large parts of three seasons after arriving at UNT as a highly regarded recruit. He experienced more than his share of highs and lows at the school.
Texashoops.com ranked Jones No. 24 on its list of the top players in the state in the class of 2011. He started all 19 games he played as a freshman in the 2011-12 campaign, averaged 14.1 points and 4.3 assists and appeared to be on his way to becoming a star in the Sun Belt Conference before he was ruled academically ineligible at the end of the first semester.
Benford took over UNT’s program the following season after Johnny Jones left to become the head coach at LSU. Chris Jones was in the process of adjusting to playing in Benford’s system when he broke a bone in his foot during a loss to Western Kentucky in December 2012. Jones missed 16 games before returning for the Mean Green’s final three contests during a season in which he averaged 9.2 points per game.
Jones started 25 games last season and gradually found his role while becoming more of a facilitator and less of a scorer in Benford’s system.
“I am starting to get back to form,” Jones said in late January. “I catch myself thinking about the future, which messes me up. I am trying to get away from that and am starting to play better because I am not thinking so much.”
Jones hit a runner in the closing seconds to lift UNT to a 65-63 win over Florida International on Feb. 20. A few weeks later, Jones hit two free throws to send UNT’s opening-round game against Rice in the C-USA tournament to overtime. He hit two more from the line in the closing seconds of overtime to give the Mean Green a 63-62 win.
That was UNT’s final win in Jones’ time with the Mean Green. He went scoreless and saw his potential go-ahead layup in the final 11 seconds of a 66-61 loss to Tulane rim out as he was knocked to the floor.
UNT’s season and Chris Jones’ time with the team came to an end with that loss.