Long before he arrived at North Texas, Tony Benford spent a few days working with some of the top young players in the country at a summer camp run by John Lucas.
Current Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon was there, as was Houston guard L.J. Rose, not to mention J-Mychal Reese, one of the most highly regarded players of the bunch.
The bond Benford formed with Reese at the camp before his freshman year of high school paid dividends late last week when the 6-1 point guard committed to play for the Mean Green.
Reese signed with UNT on Thursday and will begin classes at UNT on Monday. UNT is planning to file an appeal with the NCAA that, if granted, would give Reese two years of eligibility beginning this fall.
“I like the relationship I have with coach Benford and the way I connected with some of the players I grew up playing against when I came on my visit,” Reese said. “I played against T.J. Taylor and Jordan Williams in high school.”
Reese spent the first two years of his college career at Texas A&M before being dismissed for violations of team rules in December. The former Bryan standout was looking for a fresh start and settled on playing for UNT after considering Louisiana-Lafayette and having some contact with Memphis and Baylor.
Reese was a three-time all-state selection at Bryan and was rated as a four-star prospect when he signed with the Aggies.
“There is no doubt we are excited,” Benford said. “It’s not every day you get a four-star recruit. I have known J-Mych since he was 13 or 14 years old. Back then he was better than everyone else and was rated the No. 1 player in the country at one time by one website. He’s a good kid from a good basketball family.”
The experience Reese had playing for Benford at camp is something UNT’s new point guard never forgot.
“We developed a relationship,” Reese said. “I got to know him that weekend when we played a lot of games. He was a cool guy and down-to-earth. Our whole team liked him.”
Benford thought that Reese was among the best players at the camp and had a great future ahead of him in college.
“He had a great attitude and demeanor and could get anywhere on the floor with the basketball,” Benford said. “When we needed a basket, I just told everyone to get out of the way so we could let J-Mych take it.”
Reese signed with A&M out of Bryan and averaged 6.2 points per game as a freshman. He averaged 7.0 points in six games as a sophomore before being dismissed.
Benford felt comfortable adding Reese, not only because of his relationship with him but also with his father, John Reese, a former Texas A&M assistant coach. The two have known each other for years.
Benford also talked with A&M coach Billy Kennedy about Reese before signing him.
“They hate to lose him,” Benford said. “He will be a good fit for us and has been really well coached.”
Benford pointed to the pressure Reese faced playing for his hometown Aggies as a factor in why he ended up leaving the school. A fresh start at UNT is something Reese says could put him on a course to take advantage of his considerable talent.
“Things just didn’t go right and didn’t work out,” Reese said. “We had to do something different. I enjoyed my time at A&M. It’s a good school. The people there really supported me.”
The question now for Reese and UNT is whether he will be granted immediate eligibility, which would allow him to fill a glaring need for the Mean Green.
UNT lost point guard Chris Jones, who averaged 7.5 points last season, when he decided to transfer before his senior season. Jones ranked seventh in Conference USA with an average of 4.1 assists per game. His 127 career steals rank third in UNT history, while his 282 career assists rank sixth.
UNT also lost senior Alzee Williams, who played the point guard spot at times when Jones wasn’t on the floor.
Tyler Junior College transfer Todd Eaglin is the only other true point guard on UNT’s roster.
Reese named the opportunity for immediate playing time as another factor that led him to sign with UNT.
“We feel good about it,” Benford said of UNT’s appeal to the NCAA on behalf of Reese. “There has been some precedent set around the country for appeals being granted. Having J-Mych would change our team. He has experience, can deliver the ball on time and on target and can also shoot. He could help us spread the floor. He is also a good on-ball defender.”
There might not be a person who knows more about J-Mychal Reese’s talent than his father, who says UNT has added a point guard who could make an immediate impact.
“Mych’s a competitor, a solid point guard and playmaker,” John Reese said. “He’s a great kid as well. He is talented and has his best basketball ahead of him.”
Benford had similar thoughts about Reese when he worked with him at the John Lucas camp years ago and now will have a chance to work with him again, thanks largely to the relationship they built at camp.
“Everything in life — and especially recruiting — is all about relationships,” Benford said. “Knowing his dad and having coached him in camp helped when we pursued him.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.