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Commentary: Commitment to basketball is the big news of day

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas made it official today and introduced Grant McCasland as its new men's basketball coach.

The former Arkansas State coach seems like a great pick. He has been successful everywhere he has been and has deep Texas ties.

McCasland has worked as the head coach at Midland College and Midwestern State. Abilene Christian hired him and hung on to him for a couple of months before he moved on to Baylor as an assistant and eventually took over the program at Arkansas State.

Here's a link our main story for tomorrow's paper and a notebook that goes into some of the issues surrounding the hire.

Wren Baker said today that the biggest cost in college athletics is a program that is not successful. He brought on former Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland to turn UNT's program around.DRC file photo
Wren Baker said today that the biggest cost in college athletics is a program that is not successful. He brought on former Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland to turn UNT's program around.
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What I wanted to delve into a bit more is an opinion or two on the overriding  topic of our main story. UNT is getting serious about basketball.

UNT is dropping $500,000 on a buyout to spring McCasland from a contract at ASU and is paying him about $600,000 a year with a $500,000 base salary. 

Tony Benford made about $400,000 base with added benefits that pushed his compensation closer to $450,000.

Anyone think UNT was going to make that kind of investment in basketball? 

Anyone?

Texas is a football state with athletic departments run mostly by football guys.

UNT has two highly regarded guys at the top with basketball backgrounds in athletic director Wren Baker and his right-hand man Jared Mosley. 

The path they are taking is an interesting one. UNT averaged 4,000 fans a game at the height of the Johnny Jones area before the program fell apart in spectacular fashion under Tony Benford .

UNT finished last in Conference USA at 2-16 and ranked 11th  out of 14 teams in the league with an average of 2,089 fans per home game this season.

Can UNT get back to where it was both in the stands and the standings, where UNT strung together six straight winning seasons and was a regular NCAA tournament contender under Jones ? Can McCasland take the Mean Green to greater heights?

UNT pushed a whole lot of chips to the middle of the table in a bet that he can.

McCasland has better credentials than anyone UNT has hired to lead its men's basketball program in a long time, maybe ever.

The fact that Baker and Mosley found a highly regarded coach to take over the program isn't a surprise.

The surprise is what UNT spent to get it done in a gamble that McCasland can make the Mean Green faithful care about basketball like they once did.

Even then, Jones would occasionally gripe about UNT fans not turning out in the numbers he hoped for when the Mean Green played a low-level team few had interest in. And that was in an era when UNT won a lot.

UNT wants to be good across the board in everything. Every program does.

What made the last few weeks interesting is how much UNT was willing to spend to get to where it wants to go in men's basketball. That investment will also make the progress UNT makes toward that goal something to watch.