North Texas' New Depth Is Showing Potential For Great Things To Come
Notes Two Weeks Into Practice
DENTON -- In head coach Jalie Mitchell's first season, North Texas doubled its win total and ignited a culture that hadn't reached a NCAA postseason since she wore the green and white in 2002.
A year ago, the Mean Green struggled to dress eight healthy players towards the end of the season. But with eight newcomers, such will not be the case in 2016-17. North Texas enters one of the most anticipated seasons in team history with increased talent and dramatically upgraded depth.
Three of North Texas' top four scoring leaders from last season return for their senior season, including point guard Kelsey Criner, who led the team averaging 13.0 points per game. Criner shot 42 percent from the field and a lethal 40 percent from beyond the arc. In her second year at NT, Criner has taken hold of the offense and can be seen giving advice to newcomers and underclassmen. With more depth and a year of experience under her belt, Criner could leave North Texas owning school records.
Adams, a 5-foot-8 guard, nearly doubled her points-per-game total and was the Mean Green's primary three-point threat last season. Her 49 three-pointers were the eighth most all-time in a single season in North Texas history. Adams is just 352 points shy of becoming the 14th Mean Green women's basketball player to reach 1,000 career points.
With tremendous added depth to the guard positions, Ellison has seen more time around the paint during practice. The 5-foot-11 Ellison has always been a guard/forward with a high jump-shot percentage but will probably be asked to do more down in the post with the added depth.
DEPTH AT GUARD
During games last season when Mitchell took a look at her bench she struggled to find someone she could substitute in. This year, in the backcourt, that won't be a problem. With the addition of Terriell Bradley, Stabresa McDaniel, Tyara Warren, the three senior returners and walk-on sophomore Orianna Shillow, who showed flashes last season, North Texas probably is the deepest team in the conference at guard.
Bradley should emerge as the team's best shooter. However, she's by no means a stand in the corner and wait-for-her-shot kind of player. During practice she's been able to create her own shot and be a guard Mitchell can use to run the offense through. At a slim 5-foot-10, she might not be the most physically imposing guard, but she's sneaky athletic and has impressive leaping ability.
McDaniel could have the most all-around game of the newcomers. She is skillful at ball handling while also being able to shoot and take on defenders in both the half-court and in transition. She's quick with the ball and strong enough to bang around with post players. An aggressive player, she could challenge Criner as North Texas' leading scorer.
West Virginia transfer, Warren has been dynamic off the pass and dribble from the free throw line extended. She's a willing defender who can be physical and is athletic enough to matchup against forwards as well.
All three of the new guards could find their way into the starting lineup.
North Texas added four freshmen this summer and all have the potential to play valuable minutes early in the season. Like most freshmen, it's taken some time to get used to the faster and more physical college game.
Forward Madi Townley has been the most consistent of the freshmen and at times it seems as if she's a veteran. Her eyes never get too wide and the confidence she has in her skills never waivers. In transition she has no problem ball handling and she can be physical when needed.
In high school, point guard Adrianna Henderson used her tremendous ball handling skills to weave around and through defenses. In practice, the 5-foot-8 Topeka, Kansas, native has shown that elusive ability and an occasional highlight drive.
LIFE WITHOUT ACHEIL
One of North Texas' most successful women's basketball players in recent memory, Acheil Tac, graduated last season. Looking to replace Tac's production will be a variety of newcomers and one returner.
Mitchell said she has seen similarities between the newcomers and where Tac was this time last season. It wasn't until about January when Tac began to become the effective player she was at the end of the season.
Last year, Tac finished with 10 double-doubles. With Mitchell as her head coach, Tac more than doubled her points-per-game and rebounding average. She was the team's second-leading scorer and posted a .569 field-goal percentage, which is the fourth highest in Mean Green history.
One of North Texas' big additions this offseason was Baylor transfer Justis Szczepanski. The 6-foot-3-post player isn't eligible to play this year, but her size has been at times dominant during practice.
By far the longest player on the team, Szczepanski out runs the rest of the team and defense on fast breaks. While running she looks for the ball with her out stretched arms above the defense's heads. During this year off, Mitchell will focus on improving Szczepanski's strength, jump shot and toughness.