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UNT coaches, players feel enthusiasm at tipoff event

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

Grant McCasland vowed to build a program North Texas fans would be proud of just a few months ago when he took over as the school's men's basketball coach.  

He reiterated that stance Thursday when he had one of his first opportunities to address UNT's students at Mean Green Madness, the school's annual basketball tipoff event at the Super Pit.

"We are tough and we are going to win games so that you can brag that you go to the University of North Texas," McCasland said to a crowd of several hundred made up mostly of students.

That position is one UNT hasn't been in for quite some time. The Mean Green men haven't posted a winning season in the last five years, while the UNT women are looking to snap a string of 11 straight losing seasons.

UNT put teams on display that hope to end those slides. Neither the men's nor women's team conducted a scrimmage as in past seasons, but both head coaches spoke to fans.

The highlights of the night were 3-point shooting and dunk contests.

Terriell Bradley won the women's 3-point contest before Jorden Duffey won the men's contest. The two squared off in a final, won by Duffey.

"It was fun with all the people that were here," Bradley said. "We were able to show what we have."

The UNT women finished 12-19 in Jalie Mitchell's second season and will depend largely on Bradley, a junior guard, to change their fortunes.

The UNT men's team will have an even bigger challenge ahead in McCasland's first season after an 8-22 clunker that led to the dismissal of former coach Tony Benford.

UNT will look to a few key veteran players to help turn the tide, including A.J. Lawson. The sophomore guard won the dunk contest when he grabbed a pass freshman guard Umoja Gibson tossed off the side of the backboard and slammed the ball home.

Fellow guard Ryan Woolridge is also a big part of UNT's plans and enjoyed the enthusiasm at the event.

"It was fun," Woolridge said. "There was a lot of excitement."

There were some fun times as well.

Jon Trilli, UNT's new director of basketball operations, took out Mitchell at the end of a knockout contest that included several coaches and members of their staffs.

UNT's coaches invited the students in attendance on the floor to mingle with the players and dance at the end of the night as music blared at the Super Pit.

"It's always fun," Mitchell said. "The fans are able to put a name with a face with the players. We hope they will come back."

The turnout was encouraging to Mitchell, McCasland and UNT's players.

"The fact that we had all those students here was great," McCasland said. "That is who this is fun for. We want the Super Pit to be a place that our students feel like is home. Hopefully we will win some games early and give them a reason to come."

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