After falling in the final game of the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship, head coach Chris Ogden restocked half his roster with newcomers to try and take the program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
Four freshmen and four transfers are joining the eight returners that led UTA to the conference final amid a 17-16 overall record in the 2018-19 season.
Ogden said the new recruits bring talent, and he hopes they can also bring a championship mentality throughout their time at UTA. He looks for the same thing in all his recruits.
“Do they bring the mentality to get to the grind of a season and a four-year career and be considered winners?” Ogden said.
Assistant coach Riley Davis said the newcomers have fit in naturally with the team’s tenured leaders, making the locker room feel more “lighthearted” than last year.
Freshman guard Sam Griffin was a first team, all-state selection in his senior year at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He averaged 23 points per game as a senior and led his high school to its third-consecutive state championship.
Griffin said he chose to sign with UTA because he felt that he could help maintain the culture the team has created under Ogden.
“I thought that was special because he chose me to be a part of this organization to help build the culture,” Griffin said. “He saw something in me that maybe he knows he can build from and build on for down the line.”
The sophomore forward transferred to UTA from the University of Arkansas in January. Phillips played seven games at Arkansas as a freshman and sat out the rest of the year when he joined the Mavericks.
Ogden said the 6-foot-7 inch forward can take UTA’s talent to the next level because of his playing experience against other top universities.
Phillips, a graduate of Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, said he transferred to UTA because it was in his hometown and he preferred Ogden’s style of offense over the one he learned in Arkansas.
Freshman guard Hunter Lavelle was a District 8-4A first team selection in his senior year at Argyle High School. He averaged 12 points and seven rebounds as a senior and led Argyle to the Texas state semifinals when he was a sophomore.
Ogden said Lavelle still has some work to do heading into his first season at UTA, but he is excited to see what he can bring to the team in the future.
“Hunter is a kid that is really skilled, high IQ, that needs to get stronger and develop but has a bright future,” Ogden said.
Junior guard Davis Steelman was recruited to Ogden’s team after transferring from the New Mexico Military Institute. He has two years of playing eligibility left with UTA.
Ogden said he is excited about Steelman’s toughness and ability to shoot the basketball.
Steelman started 28 games in his two years at the New Mexico Military Institute, averaging 9.8 points and 3.7 rebounds during his sophomore year before joining the Mavericks.
A native of Paris, France, Nicolas played his final two seasons of high school basketball at Bella Vista College Preparatory School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The 6-foot-3-inch freshman guard is described by Ogden as a “freak athlete” with potential through the roof.
Elame helped lead Bella Vista Prep to a spot in the USA Today Super 25 for the first time, a national weekly ranking for the top 25 high school basketball programs in the country. He lived in Cameroon until the age of 14, when he moved back to Paris before making his way to the U.S.
Junior forward Coleman Sparling transferred to UTA after playing stints at Central Washington University and the College of Southern Idaho. He averaged 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in his last year at the College of Southern Idaho.
Sparling was coached by his father while at Central Washington. He said he signed with UTA because of the program’s family feel.
“They preach family, and that’s kind of my background,” Sparling said.
Ogden said Sparling is another player who brings a high IQ to the team, and he described the forward as a cerebral player who fits what the team does.
Tre Jones and Grayson Carter
Freshman forward Tre Jones and sophomore forward Grayson Carter will sit out the 2019-20 campaign, making it a redshirt year for the pair.
Jones will redshirt because of a knee surgery, while Carter will sit out to comply with NCAA transfer rules until he gains eligibility for the 2020-21 season, Ogden said.
Jones and Grayson are athletic players who bring high potential to the squad now and in the future, he said.
The way the team has bonded before the season opener has shown Ogden that each new team member is comfortable expressing their own personality, and it isn’t something he or his staff have to force. He said every player fits what he wants in terms of values, and he recruits people who naturally contribute to a healthy culture.
“We don’t have to create culture. We want real relationships and people to get to know each other,” Ogden said. “We hope that everybody at the end of the day is who they are.”