Long before Todd Shelton became a highly successful high school basketball coach, he made the short drive to North Texas to try to secure his first big break in the coaching business.
Shelton had just finished his playing career at Texas Wesleyan and was interested in working a summer camp at UNT for former Mean Green coach Johnny Jones.
“I will never forget it,” Shelton said. “I waited outside the office until coach Jones came out.”
The two chatted about Shelton’s time growing up in New Orleans and how he watched Jones during his tenure at LSU, where he played and worked as an assistant and now is the Tigers’ head coach.
“I told him I knew there were people beating down his door, wanting to come work his camp, but I told him I would work it for free,” Shelton said. “I worked that camp. Ever since then, we have had a relationship. I have always loved North Texas.”
Shelton’s love for the school, not to mention an impressive resume, led current UNT coach Tony Benford to bring him back, this time as the Mean Green’s director of basketball operations. Shelton replaced Jeff Luster, who left UNT’s staff after last season.
Shelton left his job as the boys coach at Haltom to join the Mean Green’s staff. He also coached at Gatesville, Fort Worth Southwest and Fort Worth South Hills as well as spending one year in the Cleveland Cavaliers front office during the 2005-06 season.
Benford said he received more than 100 applications for the job, including some from former head coaches. In the end, none could match the unique combination of experience and connections in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that could prove fruitful in terms of recruiting that Shelton possesses.
The fact that multiple former NBA general managers called on Shelton’s behalf certainly didn’t hurt his cause.
“He has been an outstanding coach and spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Benford said. “He has also been out there with the high school and AAU coaches in Dallas-Fort Worth and has great relationships with both sides. He is really going to help us.”
Shelton’s ties to UNT also could prove valuable. His camp experience at UNT is just one of his connections to the school.
Shelton’s brother Terry was a defensive back for UNT in the early 2000s, when the Mean Green won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles from 2001-04.
If it wasn’t for another offer, Todd Shelton would have ended up at UNT as a graduate assistant coach after his playing career at Wesleyan.
Jones offered Shelton a grad assistant position, but so did St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca, who could offer something UNT couldn’t. Carnesecca promised to pay for Shelton’s graduate school work.
“I went there,” Shelton said of St. John’s. “But North Texas was always in my heart because my brother played football there. ”
Now Shelton will have an opportunity to contribute to a UNT program — just like his brother did as a football player.
“I hope my connections pay off,” Shelton said. “I have ties to area high school coaches and was also an AAU coach from 2005-09. It’s rare to have a coach who was a head high school coach and also has AAU ties. If coaches trust you, they will give you information sooner than they might to someone else.”
Shelton’s return to UNT got him to thinking this week about how his career has come full circle and about working at that first camp with Jones, former Mean Green assistant coach Fred Rike and UNT Athletic Hall of Famer Chris Davis.
“My first pair of college basketball shorts were UNT Mean Green shorts,” Shelton said. “I was talking to Chris the other day and told him about how I was so excited and proud to have them. When you are a kid you look at Division I college basketball coaches as celebrities.”
Shelton will work with those coaches every day now, thanks in part to the trip he made to see Jones so many years ago.
The UNT football team’s game at SMU on Sept. 12 at Ford Stadium in Dallas will kick off at 6 p.m., the schools announced Wednesday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.