Javion Hamlet didn’t need long to realize he would face a whole new set of challenges in his senior season at North Texas.
The Mean Green’s point guard came out of nowhere to be named the Player of the Year in Conference USA in his debut season at UNT last year.
Everyone has been ready for Hamlet this time around. They’ve assigned their top defenders to him, pushed him around and generally tried to make his life miserable.
“It’s a difference from not being on people’s scouting reports last year to being at the top of scouting reports,” Hamlet said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s something I want.”
Hamlet and the Mean Green are still working through the adjustment process heading into their second series in C-USA play against UTEP (6-4, 2-2) on Friday and Saturday at the Super Pit.
UNT is 5-5 on the season after splitting its opening series in conference play last week at UTSA. The Mean Green were hoping to be in a much better position heading into the heart of conference play.
Hamlet is the biggest reason UNT has won five games. He leads UNT with an average of 13.2 points and 5.4 assists per game, totals that make him one of the more productive players in C-USA.
Hamlet just hasn’t been quite as efficient as he was last season when he averaged 14.6 points per game. The Memphis native is shooting 39.5% from the field and 28.6% from 3-point range. Both totals mark a significant drop from last season when he shot 49.2% from the field and 41.9% from 3-point range.
UNT coach Grant McCasland attributes that decline largely to the turnover the Mean Green experienced since last season. The Mean Green lost starting guard Umoja Gibson when he transferred to Oklahoma as well as starting forward Deng Geu and sharpshooter DJ Draper to graduation.
UNT has a host of talented players who have moved into the key roles that trio of players vacated. Those players have struggled at times to adjust.
“What guys are doing around Javion is important,” McCasland said. “They have to know where to be. It takes the pressure off Javion trying to do too much and puts our guys in position to be successful.”
UNT had high hopes for junior college guard Mardrez McBride heading into the season and has seen him endure an up-and-down year. He scored 21 points in his debut against Mississippi Valley State and has scored 13 points in two of UNT’s last four games.
The problem is he’s scored just four points following those 13-point games and is averaging 8.5 points per game. Freshman guard Rubin Jones has shown promise while averaging 7.4 points per game.
Veterans James Reese (10.3), Zachary Simmons (10.1) and Thomas Bell (9.7) are producing and rank second through fourth among UNT’s players in scoring. Former walk-on JJ Murray has also contributed off the bench.
UNT needs those players to produce on a consistent basis to take pressure off Hamlet.
“That is something we have talked about as a group,” Murray said. “We want to take the load off of Javion a little bit, so he doesn’t feel like he has to press to keep us in games. We have to have a better understanding and confidence in the roles we have.”
UNT didn’t have a whole lot to time to help its players adjust to those roles due to the coronavirus pandemic that wiped out much of the offseason.
“We are behind in our understanding, which is expositing Javion and putting him in bad positions where he is shooting tougher shots than he needs to shoot,” McCasland said. “It’s starting to affect his confidence a little bit. We have to speed up their experience, and maybe I need to simplify things offensively.”
Hamlet is confident that no matter what McCasland comes up with, he’ll find his groove and help UNT make a run at defending its C-USA title.
“I’m getting to my spots,” Hamlet said. “It’s a phase I am going through. I’m getting better each and every day. My shots will start falling. I’m embracing the process and the journey. I’m only worried about winning.”
Javion Hamlet’s production
|Points per game||14.6||13.2|
|Assists per game||4.7||5.4|
|Field goal pct.||49.2||39.5|
|Free throw pct.||87.3||90.0|