DENTON — The University of North Texas basketball team will open conference play on Thursday with a four-game winning streak.
On their team are two college graduates with playing eligibility left.
“I got my Bachelor of Science in criminal justice,” said UNT center Kelvin Gaines.
“It’s kind of a long name: it's Interactive virtual Digital Communications,” North Texas guard Vertrail Vaughns said of his degree.
Gaines is from Florida and played at Cincinnati before transferring to Denton. Vaughns went to Mesquite High School and played at George Mason.
Because Gaines and Vaughn are college graduates, they were able to transfer to North Texas and start playing basketball right away. They did not have to sit out a year.
So now, they're going to school here and working on their Masters.
“My academic advisors at Mason told me about it,” Vaughns said. “If you’re a grad student, then you can go and play right away."
“Yeah I love that,” Gaines added. “When I found that out, I was pretty amazed about that.”
North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal said what the NCAA did makes perfect sense.
“I think what the NCAA did is realize that there are some institutions where young men or young ladies are going to go to school and get their undergraduate degree and want to move with their education, but don't necessarily have the graduate degree that a young person might want,” Villarreal said.
The rule was changed a few years ago; it's given North Texas two players with NCAA Tournament experience.
“It’s almost like free agency in college basketball,” head coach Tony Benford said. “You look around the country, every team — I don't care if it’s Duke, Kansas or North Carolina — everybody probably has a fifth-year kid that was at another institution, got his degree in three years, and is playing right now in college basketball.”
“It’s a blessing,” Vaughns said. “It's extra work. Its hard work. But we're hanging in there, and we've got to do what we've got to do.”
“I felt this was a great situation,” said Gaines. “I couldn't ask for much more, so I took advantage of what I had.”
“Those guys have elevated our practice,” Benford said. “They bring a great deal of character to our basketball team and into the locker room."
And they're helping teammates realize that good grades and basketball go hand-in-hand.