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Flames Feature: Drive For A Title
The sun is setting on one of the most prolific careers in Liberty and Big South Conference basketball history. Larry Blair, a senior guard from Charlotte, N.C., has dazzled "The Furnace" faithful for four seasons, bringing his high-octane game to the Vines Center and placing him among the country's elite scorers.
Blair enters conference play ranked fourth all-time on the Liberty and Big South career scoring lists and it may be possible, when all is said and done in 2007, that Blair's name will be atop the conference ranking and second on the Liberty list.
One milestone Blair has reached this year was becoming Liberty's all-time leading Division I scorer when he surpassed Peter Aluma's 1,715 career points during the Flames' 89-61 victory over Longwood on Dec. 9. Blair has moved up eight spots on the Big South scoring list since the season began and has climbed three positions on the Liberty scoring list.
Milestones and records aside, it is Blair's determination to end his career at Liberty the way it started -- as a Big South Champion. Blair is the only current team member remaining from the 2004 Big South Championship squad and he is hungry to earn another ring. "I want my teammates to know how it feels to win a championship," said Blair. "I feel very blessed to win a championship as a freshman. I've been there and I want to go there again."
Blair has been a consistent scoring force for the Flames during his career, no matter who the opponent. As a freshman, he scored 17 points at fifth-ranked Arizona. As a sophomore, Blair scored 22 points at No. 10 North Carolina State and scored 30 points at No. 23 Maryland.
During his junior season, Blair scored 26 points at seventh-ranked Kentucky, prompting Tubby Smith, Kentucky's head coach, to tell Randy Dunton that if he had Blair on his team it "wouldn't be a rebuilding year at Rupp Arena" during the 2005-06 season.
"A lot of people don't know that I love watching cartoons, that I love being a goof and clown around to make people laugh," said Blair of his easy-going personality.
Blair has an amazing heart for young people and their development. "When I am done with basketball, I hope to either work in a recreation center or as a physical education teacher and coach," said Blair. "I love kids and I want to help with youth development through sports and the game of basketball. That is a great way to reach kids. I became who I am because of individuals like that who put their effort into the youth."
The Liberty men's basketball program heads the Flames Reading Club which consists of Liberty student-athletes and members of the general student body who serve as reading mentors for children in the Lynchburg City Schools system. Blair has been a big part of this club since its inception and this year at the annual kickoff at the Vines Center, read to the students and interacted well with those in attendance. "I love the interaction that I have with children and the opportunity to make a difference," said Blair.
Blair has earned the respect of his peers and coaches as well. "Playing with Larry is such a great experience," commented fellow co-captain Rell Porter. "He is amazing to watch, a great teammate, unselfish and will do anything to win."
"Larry is a special talent who can score as well as anybody in the country. We walk on the floor every night with a proven commodity," said Dunton.
It's true. Blair does score as well as anybody in the country. He finished the 2005-06 season ranked 12th in the nation in scoring at 22.6 points per game. So far this season, Blair is up to his old tricks as he remains among the top 20 in the nation in scoring. His numbers might be slightly down, but the team's wins are up. New talent has arrived, allowing Blair to avoid the constant pressure of being the "go-to guy" on every play as he has been the past couple of seasons.
The additions of playmakers like Alex McLean and Dwight Brewington to the Liberty line-up have helped Blair get open more often. In addition, he has been able to increase his assist numbers from last season. This has also aided the development of Anthony Smith, who is scoring more points this season than he did as a freshman season.
Blair's number 22 jersey has been a comforting sight running up and down the court at the Vines Center for the past four seasons. But if you attend a practice, don't expect to see number 22 on the floor. If you want to find Blair, you must look for the 6-0 guard wearing number 55.
When the Flames opened the season at Oklahoma on Nov. 16, Blair left his bag containing practice gear and shoes in the bus after a practice at the Lloyd Noble Center the night before the game. When it was time for the shoot around the next morning, the Flames had a different bus, Blair's bag was gone and there was no sign of his property at the bus company's home base.
Blair bought new shoes that afternoon prior to the game and proceeded to tally 23 points while going 4-of-8 from three-point range during the loss to the Sooners. He is good natured about the ordeal and now, with his signature zeal and personality, makes sure that all his teammates take everything off the bus every time.
The young man who came to Liberty from Camden Military Academy in Camden, S.C., where he averaged 24.6 points with six rebounds and seven assists per game, is ever the gentleman and class act who will surely be missed when his time on Liberty Mountain is done.
The Flames faithful have been blessed to witness the "Blair Experience" over the past four seasons and the 2007-08 season will reveal how jaded fans in "The Furnace" have become to his play. Jaded to the gift he has given the city of Lynchburg, the community at Liberty and everyone he encounters. Jaded because we have come to expect the brilliance he has shown on the court and off.
As the sun sets on Larry Blair's collegiate career, there is still one more push to hold nightfall back until this star-studded career ends as it began, as a Big South Champion.
By Vincent Briedis
Liberty Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director