The first thing some coaches have to do when taking over a program is scramble to restock the cupboard.
Not Tony Benford.
Benford inherited a group of talented players when North Texas hired him last spring to replace Johnny Jones. Everyone around the country already knew about forward Tony Mitchell, but the supporting cast that surrounds the All-America candidate is capable of doing plenty of damage of its own.
“There’s a reason no one would play them,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose team faces North Texas on Friday night at the CenturyLink Center. “They return a lot from last year. And the thing is, Tony Mitchell, Chris Jones and Jordan Williams didn’t play together very much last year.
“Those three are all high-major talents. We’re going to have to find a way to contain them.”
The 6-foot-8 Mitchell is the Mean Green’s headliner, a talent who many observers believe will be making a lot of money in the NBA next season. He is considered a top 10 collegiate talent after averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds as a freshman.
Mitchell, who originally signed with Missouri, didn’t become eligible until the end of the first semester last season. Shortly after he did, the Mean Green lost Jones and Williams to academic issues. At the time he became ineligible, Jones was averaging 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game, while Williams was averaging 10.9 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Benford was familiar with Williams as he tried to recruit the 6-6 guard when he was an assistant at Marquette. Georgia and Arizona State also were after Williams, who was ranked as high as 71st nationally coming out of high school.
“Jordan can shoot it and he’s very good in transition,” Benford said.
Because of the eligibility problems, Johnny Jones — now LSU’s head coach — started 11 players last season. Eight are back, including the top seven scorers from a team that averaged 70.3 points per game.
Alzee Williams finished as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with a 10.5 average, followed by Brandan Walton (8.8), Roger Franklin Jr. (8.2) and Jacob Holmen (7.0).
Franklin, a 6-5 guard, started his career at Oklahoma State. One recruiting service ranked Franklin No. 43 nationally, another No. 71, in the Class of 2009. He played 56 games over two seasons for the Cowboys before deciding to return closer to home because his father was ill.
“We have a good mix of players, and what really helped us is that the NCAA allowed us to work with them in the summer for the first time,” Benford said. “I didn’t take over the program until late April, so having the chance to work with them really helped in the transition.”
Benford also is excited about what some of the newcomers can bring to the program. Justin Patton, a 6-7 forward, led Grambling State in scoring and rebounding two seasons ago before sitting out last season as a transfer.
Keith Coleman, who originally signed with Nebraska, is a big-body center (6-10, 250 pounds) who could allow Mitchell to showcase some of his perimeter skills.
“He’s going to take a lot of the inside pressure off of Tony,” Benford said.
Benford is excited about what this group of players could accomplish this season but said there still are concerns that must be addressed.
“The thing I’ve tried to impress on them is that if we can get stops and rebound the ball, we can be in the game with anybody,” Benford said. “We definitely have to shore up our rebounding.
“But this definitely is a group that can score the basketball. We have the potential to score a lot of points this season.”
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