New North Texas coach Grant McCasland scratched one of the first items off his agenda on Tuesday when he spoke to North Texas fans and boosters at his introductory event at Apogee Stadium.
Talking to star forward Jeremy Combs is now at the top of his to-do list.
Combs played in only 14 games due to a high left ankle sprain in his junior season before being shut down for the year.
The former Dallas Carter standout declined to comment late in late January about his plans for his senior season, including the potential of transferring to another school.
Combs was not among a handful of players who attended McCasland’s introductory event. McCasland said Combs is not in Denton during spring break this week.
“What I understand with all players is their first inclination is to find somewhere else even if they enjoyed their experience where they are because of the unknown,” McCasland said. “We have already started a dialog to make sure that everyone makes the best decision. I want what is best for Jeremy and each one of these players because if it is best for them, it will be best for the program.”
McCasland and Combs had not met as of Tuesday evening.
Combs averaged 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore in the 2015-16 campaign, but he sprained his ankle late in the season. He missed UNT’s regular season finale and then played only two minutes in a loss to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA tournament.
Combs aggravated the injury in June and then had surgery in July to put a plate in his ankle to stabilize it. UNT’s doctors and trainers brought Combs back slowly. He wore a protective boot for six weeks and was limited in practice right up until UNT’s season-opener against Sul Ross State on Nov. 11.
Combs struggled throughout his junior season and averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 14 games.
“I am not worried about next season right now,” Combs said in late January. “I am just worried about the rest of the season. I haven’t thought about graduating early.”
McCasland experienced a similar situation last season at Arkansas State and lost Anthony Livingston as a graduate transfer. Livingston played his senior year at Texas Tech, where he started 29 games this year.
McCasland said he also will be in contact with Cedar Hill forward Zach Simmons and Trinity Valley Community College guard Amaad Wainwright. Simmons and Wainwright signed with UNT in November.
“I would love for them to be here,” McCasland said. “They have to understand who I am and where I am coming from.”
McCasland intends to bring ASU staff to UNT
McCasland intends to bring his assistant coaches from Arkansas State to UNT.
Associate head coach Ross Hodge and assistants James Miller and Jareem Dowling worked for McCasland this season.
Each will have to go through the hiring process at UNT and be cleared by the school.
There is also a chance they could have opportunities elsewhere.
Austin Peay is in the market for a new coach after Dave Loos retired in March. Hodge’s name has come up in connection with the job.
“We believe in our staff,” McCasland said. “They are thought of well enough that they can be head coaches and are involved with some jobs. They are some of the best coaches in the country. I believe that. It will be contingent on those opportunities. If they get a chance to be a head coach, I will encourage them to do that.”
UNT could look to replace Super Pit
UNT is planning to upgrade the Super Pit beyond the locker room renovations athletic director Wren Baker has mentioned in the past few weeks.
The school also will upgrade the venue from a cosmetic standpoint and renovate it so it will adhere with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Baker also said UNT will examine building an arena to replace the Super Pit entirely.
“You don’t want to put tens of millions of dollars into a facility that won’t have suites or club seats,” Baker said. “We have to see if it can be renovated.”
Once UNT determines whether renovating the arena is a possibility, it will assess whether it is feasible to build a venue.
“We absolutely have to assess that and see where we with a new venue,” Baker said. “We have to assess and see if it is in the long-term plans and if we have support for it. If we have someone who has a strong desire to invest in a facility that would be a bench mark on our campus, that would expedite the process.”
McCasland: UNT will recruit locally
UNT will look to tap into what McCasland described as a wealth of local basketball talent while building the program.
“We want to do a good job recruiting in this area,” McCasland said. “That is a No. 1 priority. There are not any better high school and AAU coaches anywhere else in the country than in this area.”
UNT’s staff will make developing relationships with those players and coaches a priority.
“We need to do a great job of making sure they know North Texas will be an elite program,” McCasland said. “That needs to be the perception. The only way to do that is to put ourselves in position to win and win games. That will happen here.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito