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Flames Feature: Larger Than Life
Larger than life is the persona which surrounds Liberty Flames center Russell Monroe. "We want Russell! We want Russell!" chants echo through the Vines Center, emanating from section 102 and the "Big Russ" Fan Club which supports the 6-11 center from Alma, Mich.
Every time Monroe touches the ball, his fan club goes crazy. "I really appreciate the fans who come out and support me," said the junior with a sheepish smile. To know Russell Monroe is to understand that he is a very quiet, unassuming presence when away from the competition.
When Monroe slams home a rim-rocker, it creates a frenzy in "The Furnace," led by the aforementioned fan club. On Dec. 2, East Carolina invaded the Vines Center and staked themselves to a 17-3 lead to open the game. A powerful two-handed dunk by Monroe knocked the shot clock half out of its casing above the backboard, sparking the Flames and the crowd. Liberty went on to claim the program's first-ever victory over the Pirates; it was also LU's first victory over a Conference USA opponent.
Monroe is a unique student-athlete. He was home schooled through Butternut High School and played basketball on a home school team. His high school team played other home school teams, small Christian schools and the occasional public school.
Monroe averaged 19.1 points and 14.0 rebounds per game as a senior, helping Butternut to a 35-7 record, which ranked sixth among national home school programs that season. The team's success also garnered attention from some recruiting services which listed him as a prospect on the national scene.
When it came time to pick a school, Liberty grabbed Monroe's attention. "I wanted to go to a Christian university and play competitively," said Monroe. "Liberty was a good fit for me."
When Monroe came to Liberty, it was time to transition from being home schooled to being part of an ever-growing student body and campus at Liberty. "It was a big transition for me," said Monroe. "The academic adjustment was not as tough as the other aspects of going to college from a home school program. I really had to open up socially and culturally. I have done a lot of that, but it is still a work in progress."
At Liberty, Monroe definitely stands out from the crowd. It is hard to miss the 6-11 post player walking the halls of the DeMoss Learning Center and ducking to enter classrooms. Monroe has always been "the tall kid." In fact, he has not grown any taller since he was 16. At the age of 12, he was an even six feet tall, which happens to be the listed height of teammate Larry Blair. When Monroe graduated from eighth grade, he was 6-8.
Monroe has enjoyed sharing the court with Blair for the past two-plus seasons. "He is a great player, leader and a very competitive individual who pushes me to get better," said Monroe. "He is a great teammate and is solely focused on winning."
Blair is not the only one focused on winning as Monroe lists a Big South Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament as his only goals this season.
Off the court, Monroe cites his parents and his relationship with the Lord for molding him into the person he is today. His high school coach, Steve Crous, also has made a lasting impression on Monroe. The values instilled by his parents and his coach are also what makes putting on a Liberty uniform important to him.
"When I put on that uniform, I get to represent the school and everything Liberty stands for," said Monroe. "It is a privilege to represent Liberty University and everyone who is a part of it."
Looking back on his tenure at Liberty, the center singles out the game last season at seventh-ranked Kentucky as a highlight of his career. "That was an amazing experience! It represented everything I expected big-time basketball to be," said Monroe of his experience on the fabled floor at Rupp Arena. Starting at center, he scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked one shot during 21 minutes of playing time in front of more than 22,000 fans.
However, there is more to Monroe than the game of basketball. Growing up, Monroe played the piano for 12 years. Music was introduced to him by his mother, including the classical genre. "I didn't want to play when I first started, but I have really grown to love it," said Monroe.
When he graduates next year with a degree in sport management, he plans to remain at Liberty for graduate school to study sports ministry. "I want to get involved in coaching and use basketball as a platform for Christ," said Monroe.
At this point in his career, Monroe is helping the Flames in their quest for a Big South Championship. After the team struggled to a 7-23 mark last season, it's as if a page has been turned this year.
"I can't really put into words how different this year's team is from last," stated Monroe emphatically. "We have so much more talent, we are more focused and we play the game with a much higher basketball IQ. Our potential to succeed is substantially higher. Now we just have to produce the results."
Monroe brings a solid perimeter game to complement his play inside the paint, where he has to bang bodies on the block. "Russ is strong and a great shooter when he faces up," said Randy Dunton.
As Big South Conference play begins and those familiar foes enter the Vines Center to compete for a conference crown, big number 30 will be looking to contribute more rim-rocking excitement befitting a 6-11 center. And when he does, look for the "Big Russ" Fan Club in section 102 to explode for their man.
Look for that eruption when he hits his next jumper. Look for a yell when he rips down a rebound in traffic. They will even yell when he gets up to come into the game. But most of all, look for "Big Russ" and his cheering section to be part of bringing the excitement back to "The Furnace."
By Vincent Briedis
Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director