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2014-15 Liberty Men's Basketball Preview
Take a few minutes to scan the 2014-15 men's basketball roster and you might only recognize a handful of names. With the departure of six seniors from last year's squad, this season's team features a mixture of freshmen, transfer players and some familiar faces.
Regardless of whether you've heard of guys like David Andoh, A.C. Reid, Evan Maxwell, Peter Moller or James Johnson, head coach Dale Layer isn't worried.
"I think it's a fresh start," he said. "There's a good spirit about our team. Sometimes when you have a lot of new guys it brings a fresh perspective. It is a good group that is working hard and heading in the right direction together."
The Flames look to rebound after a tough 2013-14 campaign. Heading into the season as the defending Big South Champions, Liberty finished the year with an 11-21 record after being eliminated by Winthrop in the 2014 Big South Championship quarterfinals, 77-65.
Despite the difficult ending to the year, there is an abundance of optimism surrounding the new crew of Flames. Peek into Liberty's men's basketball practice facility and you'll see Layer and his pupils displaying a high level of excitement as they prepare for the upcoming season.
"The character of our guys is good," Layer stated. "I think they like each other and believe in working. Every team is a new organism and we're just trying to develop this organism in the right way with the right people moving in the right direction."
While coaching a team with a multitude of new players presents challenges, Layer believes his group of Flames is more than capable of facing those obstacles head-on.
"It's a new perspective," he noted. "I think sometimes change is looked upon as being bad. I think change is typically good. When you have wholesale changes like we have, it can be a little dicey at times, but when you get the right people I think that's a positive."
Although the Flames feature many new characters, a few familiar faces will look to lead their teammates on and off the court. Handpicked by their peers, senior forward Tomasz Gielo, redshirt junior shooting Ethan Layer and junior point guard Joe Retic will serve as the team co-captains. The skipper says he couldn't be more pleased with the results of the team's selections.
"[Tomasz, Joe and Ethan] have all grown in their unselfishness and are thinking about the team first rather than themselves," Layer said. "I think our current players realize that and thought those were the guys they wanted to follow. I'm very excited about that because I think it is well deserved."
Another veteran sure to make his presence known is senior forward Andrew Smith. Known for being the Flames' human highlight reel, Smith had a breakout year during the 2013-14 season. In addition to appearing on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays throughout the year, Smith shined during conference play, averaging 11.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg in Big South contests.
"We have seen so many highlights from Andrew over the years," Layer noted. "That's been fun and exciting. What's lost in that is his skill development and improvement. He's consistently gotten better with our coaches working with him. Thanks to his work ethic, his ball handling, jump shot and understanding of the game have all improved. His physical conditioning is much better. He's grown up in every way and we are really counting on Andrew to have a terrific senior year."
Along with Smith and other veterans, Layer says the new cast members are also capable of bringing game day excitement to the Vines Center.
"James Johnson is a guy that has played at a high level and is eligible right away," Layer commented. "David Andoh is a guy that has played at a high level at San Jose State. Those guys are newcomers but they are not inexperienced at all. Peter Moller is a freshman, but he doesn't play like a freshman since he is 20 years old and has played internationally. Those are the guys that would jump off the page simply because of their experience, but guys like A.C. Reid and Evan Maxwell who are true freshman certainly are playing well and helping our team."
The Flames open the season at home against Randolph College on Nov. 14, but there is one event away from the Vines Center the players are likely circling on the their calendars – the Cancun Challenge. Before heading south of the border, Liberty will meet Virginia Tech (Nov. 19) and Miami of Ohio (Nov. 22) stateside. The Flames will then fly to Cancun to close out the tournament against North Florida (Nov. 25) and either Morgan State or Elon (Nov. 26).
"Just playing in Cancun should be reason enough to get excited," Layer said. That is an experience a lot of these guys have not had. I think anytime you can play at Virginia Tech it is a positive for our program. There are a lot of Virginia Tech fans in this area for good reason and it is great to compete against them because it resonates with a lot of people."
by Eric Brown, Assistant Athletics Communications Director for Liberty University