Jalie Mitchell had a choice to make entering her fifth season at North Texas.
UNT’s head coach had the Mean Green on a steady rise through four seasons with the program that saw their win total jump every year.
Mitchell could have brought on a host of quick-fix transfers to try to keep that run going after losing three starters from a team that advanced to the final of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. Her other option was to invest in high school players and transfers who would sit out the 2019-20 season to bolster the long-term health of the program.
Mitchell decided to go young and saw her team endure a host of ups and downs. She believes that decision set her team up for a bounce-back campaign after a tough year that ended with a loss to Charlotte in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament.
UNT finished 12-19, ending a run that saw the Mean Green post back-to-back winning seasons.
“We had more adversity than we expected,” Mitchell said. “But at the same time, it was great for our newbies who got a lot of experience on the court and were able to mature.”
The Mean Green had three freshmen start at least 19 games in guards N’Yah Boyd, Jazion Jackson and Randi Thompson.
Freshman forward Destinee McDowell started seven games before a hip injury knocked her out for the year.
McDowell was UNT’s second-leading scorer with an average of 11.1 points per game. Boyd added 9.4 points, while Thompson and Jackson chipped in 7.4 and 5.9, respectively.
Mitchell expected fellow freshman guard Keira Neal to also contribute but lost her to a knee injury before the season began.
That early blow was the first of several the Mean Green endured. McDowell didn’t play after a loss to Marshall on Jan. 4 due to a hip injury. Starting guard Callie Owens played in 17 games before also suffering a season-ending injury.
UNT navigated those losses in a season it had two new assistant coaches in Roman Owen and Christopher Minner, who helped the team alter its playing style. The Mean Green pushed the ball in transition more often and increased the pressure they applied defensively.
“That pace and style will be even better next year because we had a chance to play in it and the transfers have seen it,” Mitchell said.
UNT was down to eight players in the late stages of the season and will be decidedly deeper next year.
UNT had two transfers sit out in guard Quincy Noble (New Mexico) and forward Rochelle Lee (Chattanooga).
Lee and veteran forward Charlene Shepherd will help replace Anisha George, the lone senior on last season’s team. George led UNT with an average of 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. She was a second-team All-C-USA selection.
“What is encouraging for us is Charlene stepped in and did some really good things throughout the season,” Mitchell said. “Rochelle Lee saw how Anisha was successful and prepared herself to contribute. I expect her to help us.”
UNT added post player Tommisha Lampkin of Mansfield Summit and Prosper shooting guard Maddie Cleary in a two-player recruiting class.
Lampkin is one of the more highly regarded players to sign with UNT in recent years. Cleary is considered an elite 3-point shooter who could help UNT improve on its dismal 27.8% shooting percentage from behind the arc last year.
That duo will join several young players who should improve after Mitchell elected to build for the long haul and saw her streak of helping the Mean Green improve their record end at four seasons.
“If we would have stayed healthy, we could have kept that train going and won 18-plus games,” Mitchell said. “It became a transitional year.
“There are good things that came from that. You learn and build from it.”