ARLINGTON — Wren Baker talked about big plans and ambitions Saturday, when the North Texas athletic department kicked off its annual coaches caravan at Texas Live! in Arlington.
UNT’s athletic director named expanding the school’s athletic and academic centers through a grass roots fundraising campaign as a top priority in front of a crowd of several hundred fans and boosters. He also talked about “Unite North Texas,” the school’s promotional campaign for the upcoming school year.
Those talking points led up to the biggest ambition of all.
“Let’s take over this city,” Baker said.
UNT celebrated the significant progress it has made toward that lofty goal at the opener of its annual series of summer events. UNT football coach Seth Littrell, men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland and women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell joined several other UNT coaches for a question-and-answer session.
Each had a lot to celebrate after winning seasons that have bolstered enthusiasm for UNT athletics across the board.
UNT’s football program played in its third straight bowl game in December, the women’s basketball team advanced to the final of the Women’s Basketball Invitational and the men’s basketball team posted its second straight 20-win season.
That success helped draw an enthusiastic crowd to UNT’s first caravan stop, next door to Globe Life Park in Arlington.
“It’s unbelievable, the support we are receiving,” Littrell said. “We are trying to build with all of our sports and do the right things for our fans.”
Baker appealed to those fans to play a role in the continued growth of UNT athletics during a time of expansion for the program. The school opened a new $14 million soccer and track venue in the spring and is well into the process of constructing the Lovelace and McNatt Families Practice Facility, a $16 million indoor venue.
The next goal will be to expand the Mean Green Athletic Center as well as the Gayle and Virgil Strange Student Athletic Academic Center. The athletic center houses UNT’s offices for coaches and administrators as well as the weight room and training facilities for UNT’s teams.
“Those facilities touch every athlete in our program,” Baker said. “The impact of expanding those facilities will help us develop all of our athletes.”
Large donations from longtime donors like the Lovelace and McNatt families helped spark UNT’s efforts to construct its new indoor practice venue.
A larger group of smaller donors could be required for UNT to move forward with another project that will be critical to the growth of the program. Baker said UNT officials have examined what the school has to work with and determined that it has half the space it needs in weight room, training room and academic space to accommodate its athletes.
The “United North Texas” campaign came about following conversations among school officials about where UNT’s athletic program stands and what it will take for it to reach its potential.
While UNT still has room for growth, it has made significant progress over the last several months. The coaches who spoke Saturday highlighted the progress their teams have made.
Littrell said he is excited about a team that will be led by quarterback Mason Fine, the two-time Conference USA offensive player of the year. UNT’s returning players finished the school year in a positive way under strength and conditioning coach Zack Womack, Littrell said.
McCasland expressed confidence in the future of his program after a season he says helped lay a foundation for success. UNT finished 21-12, despite struggling late in the season, and signed a highly regarded recruiting class.
McCasland named point guard Javion Hamlet as perhaps the most important member of that class. Hamlet will take over after starting point guard Ryan Woolridge left the program as a graduate transfer.
UNT has yet to officially announce its men’s and women’s basketball schedules but acknowledged that the men will play in a tournament in Jamaica this fall, when the women will travel to an event in Hawaii.
Tennis coach Sujay Lama said that he is in the process of adding a highly regarded transfer. Maria Ponomareva was a freshman at Kansas State last season and is expected to join the Mean Green in the next few days.