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Flames Hoops Picked No. 4 in Big South Preseason Poll

October 11, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Senior guard Jesse Sanders was named to the 2010-11 Big South Preseason All-Conference team.
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The Liberty Flames men's basketball team was selected to finish fourth in the Big South Conference for the 2011-12 season, as voted on by the conference's head coaches and members of the media. The announcement was made Tuesday at the Renaissance Suites Hotel in Charlotte, N.C., as part of the 2011-12 Big South Basketball Tip-Off Media Luncheon.

Liberty senior point guard and 2010-11 Big South Player of the Year Jesse Sanders was voted to this year's preseason all-conference team, narrowly missing the nod for Big South Preseason Player of the Year.

Liberty is coming off a 19-13 season and a second-place finish in conference play. The Flames went 13-5 in conference action in 2010-11, setting a new program record for most Big South wins in a season.

Head coach Dale Layer enters his third season at the program's helm, returning three starters from last year's squad – Sanders, David Minaya and Joel Vander Pol.

Sanders returns to the court for his final season after having his most productive year with Flames. During the 2010-11 campaign, the Sugar Land, Texas native ranked No. 23 in the country and was the Big South leader in assists (5.7 apg). The rising senior also finished 18th in the league in scoring (11.3 ppg) and 11th in rebounding (6.0 rpg).

Along with being tabbed Big South Player of the Year and AP All-America Honorable Mention, Sanders was also named first team all-conference, CollegeHoops.net Mid-Major All-America Honorable Mention, Second Team National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-District and Second Team Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) All-State.

Coming off a disappointing season in 2009-10 in which the he averaged 3.1 points per game, Minaya turned things around this past season, rounding out the Flames' quartet of double-digit scorers with 10.7 tallies per contest. Minaya proved he could be the go-to guy if need be, putting up 22 and 20-point efforts in home victories over VMI and Gardner-Webb, respectively.

While the 2009-10 campaign was a learning year for Vander Pol, the 6-10 center was finally able to put his knowledge and skills to the test this past season. After averaging 4.1 points and 3.2 boards per game along with 21 blocks on the season, Vander Pol looks to add to the solid start he had in his first active season with the program.

The voting panel tabbed defending Big South champion UNC Asheville (257 points) as the preseason favorite to win this season's conference championship by a 27-point margin over  2010-11 regular-season champion Coastal Carolina (230) and a 64-point margin over VMI (193).

With Liberty (190) landing in the fourth spot, Winthrop (160) was projected fifth, followed by High Point (135), Presbyterian College (134), Charleston Southern (117), conference newcomer Campbell (116), Gardner-Webb (78) and Radford (40).

UNC Asheville guard Matt Dickey was selected as the Big South Preseason Player of the Year. The other four members of this year's preseason all-conference team include Sanders, Presbyterian College's Al'Lonzo Coleman, High Point's Nick Barbour and UNC Asheville's J.P Primm.

The first official day of practice for the Flames is slated for Friday. Liberty opens the 2011-12 season on Nov. 9, squaring off against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas for the regional round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Game time is slated for 8 p.m. The Flames then return home on Nov.11 to host Randolph College at 7 p.m.

2011-12 Men's Basketball Preseason Poll
Rk Team (first-place votes) – Points
1. UNC Asheville (18) – 257
2. Coastal Carolina (5) – 230
3. VMI – 193
4. Liberty – 190
5. Winthrop – 160
6. High Point (1) – 135
7. Presbyterian – 134
8. Charleston Southern – 117
9. Campbell – 116
10. Gardner-Webb – 78
11. Radford – 40

2011-12 Preseason Men's Basketball All-Conference Team
Matt Dickey, UNC Asheville – Preseason Player of the Year
Jesse Sanders, Liberty
Al'Lonzo Coleman, Presbyterian College
Nick Barbour, High Point
J.P. Primm, UNC Asheville