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Men's basketball: Brice, Brown to leave UNT program

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

New North Texas men's basketball coach Grant McCasland continued to remake the Mean Green's roster Friday when he added a sixth recruit to his 2017 class and parted ways with two players.

Junior center Rickey Brice Jr. and junior guard Ja'Michael Brown are leaving the program, a source close to the situation said.  

Brice received his release Friday.

UNT also announced that Baltimore Mount Zion Prep forward Mark Tikhonenko has signed his national letter of intent.

Those moves are just the latest in a series of comings and goings for a team in the midst of a dramatic overhaul.

UNT fired Tony Benford in March after an 8-22 season — his fifth straight campaign at .500 or worse. The Mean Green hired McCasland away from Arkansas State a short time later to rebuild the program and have seen him quickly revamp the roster.

UNT has signed five players since McCasland's arrival and retained Cedar Hill forward Zach Simmons, who was recruited by Benford. The Mean Green also have seen three others leave the program.

Standout forward Jeremy Combs announced this month that he is leaving UNT as a graduate transfer.

McCasland said the players he has added have put  UNT in position to improve heading into his debut season.

"We have a great blend of young talent and players with collegiate experience that we can develop in our program," McCasland said. "We have signed guys who have won a lot of games at the college level. That will be a huge key to having success quickly and building for the future."

Tikhonenko is the latest of those additions. The 6-10 Russian forward is the son of Valeri Tikhonenko, who won a gold medal with the Soviet Union at the 1988 Olympics.

Tikhonenko played for Mount Zion last season and also spent time at Hamilton Heights Christian in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"He is super skilled for his size," Mount Zion coach Rodrick Harrison said when Tikhonenko committed to UNT late last month. "That will translate well to the college game."

Tikhonenko played for the Russian 16-and-under national team and worked out with the U18 team.

McCasland expects that experience to pay dividends for UNT.

"His skill set combined with his size makes him a tough matchup," McCasland said in a statement. "He has experience playing internationally and has grown up around the game. His love for basketball and being in the gym gives him a chance to be a great player."

Tikhonenko could help fill the void left by the departure of Brice, a 7-1 center who struggled to meet expectations at UNT. The former Pantego Christian standout averaged 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds as a junior this past season and started 11 games.

Brown, who played at Houston Pro-Vision Academy before signing with UNT, averaged 5.8 points and started 12 games last season as a sophomore.

UNT has quickly added players with junior college experience to fill the voids on its roster. Guards Mike Miller (Shawnee Community College) and Roosevelt Smart (New Mexico Junior College) have joined forward Tope Arikawe (Panola College) in UNT's class.

McCasland also signed  Umoja Gibson, a point guard from Waco University High.

"We always try to evaluate who fits our program," McCasland said. "I really like every player on a personal and talent level. We have some good students and good players. I am excited about the total package. We covered a lot of needs with scoring, ball handling with the highest skill level and physicality around the basket."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.