The new face of the North Texas women’s basketball program has the excitement level at a new high heading into what promises to be an intriguing season. Since being named just the fifth head coach in school history, Shanice Stephens has brought a new air of excitement and a new brand of basketball is in store for the upcoming season and many more to come. Stephens arrives at North Texas with a resume chalk full of success and experience.
A phrase fans and opponents alike should get use to hearing is “94 feat of heat”. The mantra of Coach Stephens echo’s the style of basketball that the Mean Green will be playing, up tempo, fast-paced, and a constant barrage of defense.
When you breakdown each position for the Mean Green this season, it doesn’t take too long to see the strength that Coach Stephens will have at her disposal at the guard position. Including the newcomers, North Texas has eight players to count on led by senior’s Yari Escalera, Jo Hall and junior Brittney James. Escalera flourished down the stretch for North Texas last season as she took control of the Mean Green offense running it from the point guard spot. While she led the team in assists, Escalera is also a sharpshooter from the perimeter, knocked down 36 3-pointers last season, the 11th most in school history.
Complementing Escalera this season again will be Hall and James. Both players experienced breakout seasons last year, notching career high numbers in points, rebounds, steals, and assists. Hall, one of the most gifted athletes on the team, along with James, are a couple of players to watch in the new North Texas style of play. Hall exploded onto the scene notching career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Hall was third in scoring, second in rebounding, and second in steals for North Texas.
James, the second leading scorer last season, is poised to continue her development into on the best guards in the region and the Sun Belt Conference. As a freshman James scored the most points by a North Texas freshman since the 1998-99 season. James even topped herself last season by scoring the most points by a sophomore at North Texas since the 1996-97 season.
She is on the verge of putting her name into the record books in several categories. 3-point field goals and steals are two categories where James will enter the top 10 all-time at North Texas this season and with a big offensive season she could reach the 1,000 point plateau year.
Senior’s Tricia Lee and Kelli Buckley give the Mean Green’s backcourt even more depth and experience coming off the bench. A three-year letterwinner who has the versatility to start or come off the bench, Lee is a player that excels on both sides of the floor. As the back-up point guard, Buckley last season dished out 58 assists. Buckley, adept at drawing charges, also had 26 steals on the season, the fifth most on the team.
The Mean Green’s post play will be anchored by one of the most dynamic players in the school’s history in senior Amber Jackson. Fresh off a season in which she was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference second-team, she is poised to write her name into the record books this season. Jackson led North Texas in scoring, field goals, field goal percentage, and rebounding. Jackson scored 416 points and sits only 83 points away from becoming just the 11th player in school history to score 1,000 for her career.
One of the league’s top shooters, Jackson hit 50 percent of her shots last season, which tied for 9th best in school history. Jackson was the first player to hit 50 percent of her shots at North Texas since the 1998-99 season.
While the focus of opposing teams will be Jackson down low, teams can’t forget the threat of sophomore Brittani Bailey or junior’s Mimi Goodman and Torrian Timms. Bailey, coming off an injury shortened season, show flashes of brilliance during her freshman season. An athletic presence down low, Bailey will compliment Jackson in the post. Goodman and Timms have seen limited time in their first two years but look to flourish under the new system employed by Coach Stephens.
North Texas welcomes four new faces into the mix this season, three highly touted high school standouts and two Division I transfers. Mansa El, Tamara Torru, and Jeanee Thompson arrive in Denton along with Rice transfer Brittney Hudson and University of Texas transfer Niqky Hughes.
Thompson helped led her team to the Class 3A TAAPS state title game and was named to the all-tournament team. She was named to the TAAPS Class 3A first-team all-state her senior season. Thompson averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists her junior season and was named to the TAAPS Class 3A All-State team. She is a multi-sport star as Thompson is also an all-state athlete in tennis and track.
El, a versatile guard, was part of the Class 5A state champion as she helped lead Cy-Fair to its first ever state title and a No. 5 national ranking at the end of the season by espn.com. El was named to the all-tournament team for her efforts at the state tournament. Her senior season she averaged seven points a game and hit 43 percent of her 3-pointers. She was named to the TABC All-Region team in her senior season. Her junior season El was a first-team District 17-5A selection and a Class 5A Region III selection in 2006.
Torru was a second-team District 20-5A selection as she averaged eight points and 3.5 assists last season. In 2005 Torru was a second- team all-district player in 2005 as a sophomore. Torru was named to the Duncanville Classic all-tournament team in 2006 and to the River City Classic all-tournament team in 2007. She was named the Bellaire High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.
Hudson must sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules but she comes to North Texas after appearing in 31 games at Rice, averaging 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in 2007-08. She scored in double figures during three conference games, including a career-best 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting against UTEP. A 2007 graduate of Stephen F. Austin High School, Hudson was named All-District First-Team all four years and was a TABC All-Region pick for three seasons.
She was a 2007 McDonald’s All-American nominee after pouring in 23.3 points per game as a senior and was tabbed the fifth-best player in the state by TexasHoops.com after averaging 22.6 points per game as a junior. As a sophomore she scored 17.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and four steals a game. Hudson was a two-time Academic All-District winner and earned District Co-Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
Hughes was the No. 4 ranked player in the state by TexasHoops.com coming out of high school. As a senior at Waxahachie she was a 2006 Street & Smith All-America Honorable Mention and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America Honorable Mention.
She led the Indians to the state championship in 2006 and was named the state tournament’s MVP after averaging 20 points and 14.5 rebounds.
Hughes was the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) Class 4A Player of the Year in addition to being named to the TABC and TGCA first-team all-state. In her junior season, she averaged 18.8 points a game and 5.6 rebounds. Hughes was a teammate of current North Texas forward Torrian Timms at Waxahachie.
At Texas last season, she saw action in 16 games. In her freshman season, Hughes averaged 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds while playing in just under 14 minutes a contest. She had two starts and played in all 32 Longhorn games. She posted four double figures scoring games and had a career-high 15 points against Louisiana-Lafayette. Her career-high in rebounds, seven, came against Oregon State and Texas Tech.
Despite it being her first season, Coach Stephens is not backing away from playing the nation’s best. The Mean Green faces seven teams that played in the post-season last year and five that made the NCAA Tournament.
North Texas starts the season with five games away from home, beginning on November 17 at Marshall. The Mean Green plays in the UTSA Classic over the thanksgiving weekend against Charleston Southern and UTSA. North Texas fans will get their first glimpse at the new style employed by Stephens on Dec. 2 with a home game against Houston. Valparaiso visits the Super Pit for the first time on Dec. 6.
North Texas has a road game at New Mexico a week later on Dec. 9 before returning to face SMU in Dallas on December 14. One of the toughest non-conference games will be on December 28 when North Texas visits Oklahoma State.
The Mean Green begins Sun Belt Conference play on December 18 on the road at Louisiana-Lafayette. North Texas faces defending conference champion Western Kentucky on Jan 31 in Bowling Green. The 2009 Sun Belt Conference Tournament is in Hot Springs, Arkansas this season. First-round games are scheduled for March 4 with the tournament in Hot Springs on March 7-10.
In all the Mean Green faces a daunting road schedule of 18 games this season.
The five NCAA tournament teams North Texas plays this season are UTSA, New Mexico, SMU, Oklahoma State, and Western Kentucky.