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2012-13 Men's Hoops Outlook: Posts

November 1, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Flames forward Antwan Burrus

As the Liberty men's basketball team prepares for its Nov. 9 season opener at Richmond, LibertyFlames.com will provide a four-part preview of the 2012-13 season. Today's article provides a look at the Flames' post players.

The 2012-13 campaign could be the year of the big men, as the Flames roster includes six players who could take the floor in the No. 4 and 5 spots.

Antwan Burrus returns for his senior year, looking to cement a place in the Liberty record books. With the loss of John Brown and Sommy Ogukwe due to injury, last season, Burrus stepped up in a major way. The Winterville, N.C., native concluded the season fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game. Along with his point total, Burrus also led the team in blocked shots with 36 and was second in rebounding, grabbing 6.3 boards per game.

When looking back at the 2011-12 season, Flames fans will undoubtedly remember one particular Burrus play that received national attention. During Liberty's road game versus Charleston Southern on Feb. 9, the forward nailed a 30-foot buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Flames a 75-74 victory. The shot by Burrus was featured at No. 2 on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays that night.

"Antwan is greatly improved," Layer said. "It is amazing to see what he has accomplished over his now four years. He has turned into as hard of worker as we have. He is a double-double machine for us and could be a first team all-league guy. We are expecting him to have a terrific year and play a couple different positions for us."

Two 6-9 sophomore forwards are each looking to make a statement at the No. 4 spot. Returning from an arm injury that forced him to miss the first four weeks of last season, Tomasz Gielo turned heads in his Liberty debut on Dec. 17, 2011. In a game in which David Minaya and Joel Vander Pol were out due to injury, the Poland native gave the Flames quality minutes, finishing with nine points in the 74-65 victory.

A fundamentally sound player, Gielo became a regular in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season, providing the Flames with stability on both ends of the court. This past summer, Gielo carried what he learned last season back to his home country, as he competed with the Polish national team in the U20 FIBA European Championships.

"Tomasz is coming off a really good summer with the U20 Polish national team," Layer said. "They were very excited about what he learned and accomplished at Liberty and how he improved. I think he continues to get stronger and a better feel for things. His skills are at a high level and I expect him to continue on the upward growth curve. His injuries set him back, but he finished strong and had a great spring and summer. We are expecting him to be a major contributor."

The other 6-9 forward, Andrew Smith gave the Flames a shot of adrenaline at times last season, wowing the crowd with explosive alley-oop dunks. While Smith's minutes were limited, Layer believes the Floridian has matured greatly heading into his sophomore season.

"Andrew is vastly improved over a year ago and is much more mature, " Layer noted. "His outside shot is better and his athletic ability is at a high level. I think he understands the game more and how he needs to play in order to be effective. He is growing up and it is fun to see his development."

After getting his feet wet during the 2010-11 season, center Joel Vander Pol was looking to build on his redshirt freshman campaign, last year. Unfortunately, injuries prevented Vander Pol from being a consistent post presence. The 6-11 big man overcame the obstacles in Liberty's conference opener against Campbell, posting a career-high 20 points, nine rebounds and two steals, while hitting 10 shots from the charity stripe.

Vander Pol made an impact later in the season against Coastal Carolina, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the field to finish with 13 points in the 61-57 victory.

"Joel is coming off back surgery and will miss a lot of the early preseason and early part of the year," Layer said. "There were times where Joel was a major factor. We need to continue to get him healthy and have him give us leadership, toughness and size on both ends of the floor so he can affect the game like he is capable of doing."

Newcomer JR Coronado could be exactly what the Flames are looking for in the post. Playing at Palm Beach State last season, the junior college transfer helped lead his team to a state championship. The previous year, Coronado was a double-double machine in his freshman year at Lake Region State College, averaging 11.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Coronado's rebound total placed him in the top 10 among junior college players, that season.

"JR is a terrific rebounder who brings a lot of toughness, Layer noted. "He is a guy who is very competitive and will work, dive on the floor, he will take charges and be around the ball all the time. He can score with the opportunity and is a guy that could really be a force for us."

Sommy Ogukwe returns to the court this season, after missing the entire 2011-12 season due to injury. Prior to his injury, Ogukwe was expected to start at the No. 5 spot. While the Nigerian's path was redirected, the 6-7 post player has used his recovery time to improve his strength and skills.

"Sommy is coming off major knee surgery and is vastly improved over two years ago," Layer stated. "He was our starting center when he got hurt last year, so it was a tough blow to him and us. Sommy is stronger, bigger, understands the game better and is better skilled as a result of sitting out. I am excited to see how quickly he can get back in the flow of things, because once he does he could be a very good player for us."