Mar 3, 2009

Ritchie McKay: Leading the way for Flames Basketball

by Jordan LoSasso

Liberty men’s basketball Head Coach Ritchie McKay defines leadership as influence. Specifically the influence a person has on other people’s lives.

The definition of leadership for McKay came from convocation speaker John Maxwell, but the meaning came from McKay’s father. McKay’s hero was his father Joe McKay, because of the way he influenced so many people positively.

“He made other lives better,” McKay said.

Influence is a dangerous and powerful tool that can be used to affect people negatively, but good leaders use it to invest in people positively, according to McKay.

“If we are influencing for our own purpose it is useless,” McKay said.
McKay was recognized as an influential figure nationally when he was one of six finalists for the Clair Bee Award in 1995. The award recognizes the coach with the most influence in college basketball.

“He is a man of great integrity and character. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to help guide me through part of my basketball career and I still look to him to this day for guidance,” Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers said. Granger played under McKay at the University of New Mexico and was selected 17th overall in the 2005 NBA draft.

As the Big South Conference Tournament approaches and with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line, McKay is leading his team with not just expectations of winning, but improving daily.

“I don’t have expectations necessarily. We are just trying to get better every day. Our team is headed in the right direction and we are continuing to improve,” McKay said.

McKay has only brought one team to the NCAA tournament. In 2005 he coached the University of New Mexico (UNM) to a Mountain West Conference Championship that clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament.

McKay arrived at Liberty in 2007 after being let go from UNM. He felt Liberty was a special place in his first visit during the hiring process. Being part of something great enticed McKay to join the Flames basketball program.

“From the day I stepped on campus, I knew I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself,” McKay said. “And I was thankful for the opportunity.

“From the students, to the Chancellor, the athletics department and even the janitorial staff, the people at Liberty are remarkable.”

McKay is so thrilled by the students of Liberty intently pursuing Jesus Christ that he makes an effort to attend as many convocation services as he can.

“I am inspired by the students and seeing young people so passionately pursuing Jesus,” McKay said.

That is why, as often as he can, McKay sits directly next to the stage only a few rows up from the floor. There he becomes inspired by the student body at Liberty.

On the court and in the same arena as convocation, he is impressed by the players and the potential his young group has already shown.

“Our team is heading in the right direction. We have a good group of young players with championship caliber potential,” McKay said.

Athletic Director Jeff Barber agrees that Flames basketball will reach new heights under the character and tutelage of McKay.

“Not only is he an outstanding coach, but even more, he is a man of superior character who will build our program with class and integrity,” Barber said.

The Flames finished last season 16-16, and lost in the Big South Championship Semifinals to UNC-Asheville. Liberty is set on rebounding in McKay’s second season to capture the Big South Championship in a year that has had its fair share of ups and downs. The Flames burst out of the gates early on, defeating Virginia, William and Mary and George Mason and came within three minutes of defeating a nationally ranked Clemson team.

Since then, though, the Flames are 14-8 and coming off their two worst defeats of the season. In the Bracket Buster game on ESPNU, Liberty lost 80-56 to Old Dominion and followed with a disastrous 109-72 home loss to conference foe VMI.

McKay credits the character of the program that includes leaders like senior Anthony Smith, freshman point guard Jesse Sanders and freshman phenom Seth Curry for one of his most enjoyable seasons in his 12-year head coaching career. McKay admits this season has been “fun and funny.”

McKay joked that he deserves credit for some of Curry’s heroics. After Curry hit a three-pointer over a High Point defender to ice the game McKay wanted the recognition.

“You going to ask me about that shot I taught Seth?” McKay joked.
“He was like, ‘Man, have you been watching my tapes?’” Curry said, but responded with a simple “no” when asked if he was going to let his coach have credit, all of which was in good fun.

McKay’s greatest benefit from coaching at Liberty has been his family. His wife Julie and three kids Luke, 10, Gabriel, 8, and Ellie, 14, often travel to away games with McKay, and he vows not be an “office dad” amidst hectic schedules.

“The blessing at Liberty University has been its restoration of my perspectives,” he said.

Contact Jordan LoSasso at 

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