By Christopher Walker
I secured my visiting section ticket yesterday and my AirBnB this morning. I'm officially way too excited for this weekend jaunt to potentially upend the Hogs.
It's been four or five years since I was up in that part of the State, and then it was to officiate my best friends' wedding.
Any particular bar or spots folks have their eye on to turn into Mean Green central? I'm thinking of JBGB's, Dickson Street in general, and then visiting Crystal Bridges art museum that Sunday on my way out.
As North Texas prepared for its CBI opener at South Dakota, Grant McCasland had a problem.
The Mean Green were limping when they accepted the tournament invite, having lost seven of their last eight games. McCasland had a dynamic, slashing playmaker in sophomore point guard Ryan Woolridge but the court had shrunk around him. UNT had shot just 28.3 percent from three in the previous four games, and McCasland needed to create space for his lead guard.
As the morning shoot around unfolded, junior guard Michael Miller missed shot after shot. McCasland couldn’t take his eyes off of him.
“I saw him staring at me and I was thinking, ‘what’s going on?’” Miller said.
What was going on was that McCasland had come up with an idea to fix his team’s sagging offense. The first-year UNT coach called over Jon Trilli, his Director of Basketball Operations, and bounced the idea of him.
It was out there.
Miller, who had made just three of his 23 three-point attempts, would be given the green light from deep against a tough Coyotes’ defense. And he’d have to shoot them with his right hand, which for most players would go unsaid. Except Miller was a left-handed shooter.
Miller was told to switch to his normally non-dominant hand the rest of the shootaround. He immediately made six shots in a row, missed one and then made four more in succession. That’s when McCasland called him over.
“I told Mike, ‘here’s the deal: I’m going to start you tonight and I want you to shoot eight three pointers and I don’t care if you make them,’” McCasland said.
Miller didn’t hit the quota, but it paid off. That night, he scored 19 points and went 4-5 from three, more than doubling his season output from distance. It helped the Mean Green knock off a 26-win South Dakota team, and started them on the path to a CBI championship.
read more: https://www.midmajormadness.com/2018/7/13/17551840/michael-miller-switch-hands-shooting-north-texas-unt-basketball-mean-green-mccasland-cbi-champions
I know the first rule of the “Fight Club” movie starring Brad Pitt was you were never to talk about Fight Club. But when it comes to #F19HTCLUB, the official social media moniker for North Texas Football’s 2019 signing class, I feel compelled to break the rule. Not only is this class off to great start with fourteen 3-star ranked commitments in just early July, but potentially looking like it could be one of the best in program history. Perhaps it could even be in the running for one of the top G5 classes in the country. This is new territory for a North Texas program who has struggled at times to land higher ranked players, despite being in a hot bed of Texas high school talent in past years. The 2019 class not only has high rankings, but also many hold quality offers from G5 and, yes even *gasp* P5 programs with significant more funding and resources. One of the only knocks on Seth Littrell in his tenure thus far at North Texas is the perception he has not recruited at a high enough level, certainly in the eyes of the recruiting services. One argument was Littrell’s signing classes did not have enough 3 star ranked players. Another would be that his recruits did not have enough P5 school offers. Here’s the real story, in just over two years Littrell and company has done a remarkable job completely rebuilding the roster and culture of a program that had been decimated after a string of bad hires. You don’t take a 1-win team to a C-USA conference championship game in 2 seasons without upgrading the talent on the roster. Over 50% of the starting line up in the 2017 C-USA conference championship were brought in after Seth Littrell took over. The good news is that the proportion of Littrell recruits will only increase in the 2018 season and there were some good players who redshirted last season making their debut in 2018. And no one has ever questioned Littrell and his staff’s ability to identify and develop talent. One need only look to starting junior quarterback Mason Fine who most every division I program thought was too small to play. Fine passed for 4,052 yards in 2017 with 31 touchdowns making him the #6 ranked passing leader in the entire NCAA. In fact, he sat just one chair behind #5 ranked Sam Darnold of USC (4,143) who just signed with the NY Jets as the 3rd pick in the draft. As North Texas has improved in the win column (9-5 in 2017; 2 consecutive bowls) there are also encouraging signs the recruiting efforts have trended upward each cycle since Littrell’s hiring. That said, the 2019 class – thus far – appears to be the cycle where everything seems to be falling into place. Winning helps for sure, as top players want to join a program that is winning consistently and going to bowl games. In retrospect, the key difference may well be Littrell’s hiring director of recruiting, Luke Walerius. Walerius’ most recent stop was at Kentucky in the SEC and is primarily responsible for North Texas’ recruiting program including organization and talent evaluation. The social media efforts and communication have taken took huge steps since his arrival. When talking to both prospect and commits a common theme is that North Texas is the team showing the most love and the best family culture to them. Another key impact that Walerius has made has been to take the natural resources North Texas has, in terms of staff, location, facilities, academics and communicate it effectively in language that the prospects and their respective coaches understand. Twitter has become the king of football recruiting and North Texas has embraced communicating it’s strengths in that medium under Walerius’ lead. Two positions they may be set in terms of numbers in this class are WR and LB. Littrell and his staff have had great success at the wide receiver position since coming on board. They are returning Jalen Guyton, Rico Bussey, Michael Lawrence and Jaelon Darden, all guys brought in by current staff. They also have some exciting freshman and transfers that could contribute this fall including redshirt Greg White from Georgia and Kansas transfer Keegan Brewer. There are currently 3 receivers committed to North Texas this cycle including Damon Ward and Deonte Simpson both from West Brook as well as Kealon “Action” Jackson from Shadow Creek. All three have two things in common, speed and versatility. All three will contribute and be exciting in this spread offense. North Texas has had great success at LB in recent history including sending Craig Robertson (Saints) and Zach Orr (Ravens/Retired) to the NFL. In 2018 North Texas will have a very veteran LB Squad led by seniors EJ Ejiya and Brandon Garner. The quartet of 2019 LB recruits could be the most talented group of commits as whole by position. Twins Gabriel and Grayson Murphy (Bishop Lynch) and Taylor Jacobs (South Grand Prairie) all listed at 6-2, 215 and have versatility to play both linebacker positions and the potential to move down to defensive end. The fourth linebacker commit Kevin Wood (Judson) is listed at 6-0 200, and on film is a tackling machine with a nose for the ball. Watching his highlight film is exciting. He also has versatility and speed to not only play linebacker but also slide back to a safety position in the 3-3-5. The quarterback commit position is in good hands as well. North Texas went back to familiar territory and went back to Oklahoma landing the commitment of State Champion Owasso QB Will Kuehne. Kuehne is a very good QB prospect with a very bright future and a ton of potential. He held offers from Maryland, Arkansas State and several Ivy League schools. Defensive back is one of the most important position groups in the 3-3-5 defense. Mean Green added 4 safeties in the last class. I project they will add close to the same number this class. Currently they just have one committed but that one is a BIG one. Jevin Murray (Shadow Creek) is one of the top defensive backs in the state. He can be an instant contributor for defensive coordinator Troy Reffett’s defense. He held 13 offers including multiple P5 offers. Jevin’s main recruiter is special teams coach Marty Biagi who is having a great recruiting season so far. Marty’s covers the critical Houston-area region which many believe has more prospects than any other region in Texas and possibly the nation. North Texas is having great success in Houston this year. including two of the top-rated recruits running back Garrison Johnson (Manvel) and tight end Asher Alberding (Clear Lake). Garrison choose to commit to North Texas over P5 offers including Syracuse and Nebraska. He has the talent to fall right in North Texas run of talented running backs. Asher (6-4, 235) is an intriguing combination of old school blocking and new age receiving tight end. Coach Littrell success with Rob Gronkowski at Arizona played a big part in Asher decision. It will be fun to watch him develop. The hardest position groups for G5 and even P5 teams to recruit consistently on both sides of the ball is the offensive and defensive lines. In the 2019 cycle, North Texas has done a great job finding big athletic guys that you can develop. They currently have two offensive linemen in John Brunner (6-5, 300 / Brock) and Chris Cassidy (6-4, 280 /Angleton). Both fit the build of athletic/people movers that can develop for offensive line coach Chuck Langston. Look for UNT to try and add at least one more offensive lineman this class. On the defensive side of the ball they have one defensive lineman committed in Demeco Roland (6-3, 275 / Broken Arrow, OK). He comes from the same school as Derrick Shaw a defensive tackle signee from last year class that the staff is very excited about. Demeco is another guy with a lot of potential. Look for him to have big senior season. With 14 commits so far, I figure the staff has around 9 to 10 more scholarships to fill out. I would expect 2 to 3 more commits before the season starts. Don’t be surprised if North Texas doesn’t save the rest of the scholarships for the frenzy that happens as signing day nears and prospects realize they can’t all go to Texas and A&M. With coaching changes and stuff, it is a mad dash as national signing day gets near. And in Seth’s time at North Texas they have really capitalized on some of these later commitments. There is also the opportunity to add some junior college transfers at positions of need. Of course, when you sign the best, you better be prepared when bigger schools lose their commits and decide to start poaching. In prior regimes, North Texas seemed ill prepared for this annual ritual. With Walerius managing the process, it appears that the program is doing everything you have to do to circle the wagons, maintain strong relationships and keep these committed players in place. Time will tell. This is an exciting time to be a North Texas fan. There can be no doubt that North Texas is trending upward in the college football ranks. Back to back bowl games and a trip to the conference championship is potentially just the tip of the iceberg. Between the talent added last class and the talent currently committed this could be the boost needed to push North Texas to the top of G5 rankings and beyond. For a long time UNT has been referred to as the “sleeping giant” due to great location, and school size. But now all the necessary pieces seem to finally be in place to take that next step. North Texas is benefiting from great leadership starting with university president Neal Smatresk and athletic director Wren Baker. North Texas made a phenomenal coaching hire in Seth Littrell and with the aid of director of recruiting Luke Waleruis. #F19HTCLUB could be the signing class that finally woke the sleeping giant.