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Taking the Lead Role

March 11, 2010  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Senior Kyle Ohman chats with Nick Pierce, reflecting on his final season as a member of the Liberty men's basketball team.
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This feature article appeared in the fifth edition of Flames Illustrated for the 2009-10 basketball season. Kyle Ohman concluded his collegiate career at Liberty with 1,141 points, making him 17th on Liberty's all-time scoring list.

Shortly after the release of this article, he posted a career-high 39 points on Senior Night (Feb. 20), leading Liberty past High Point, 76-67, in the Flames' final home game of the season. Ohman finished the season averaging 15.4 points per game and was named to the Big South's all-conference second team.

Like a theater production, the game of basketball is comprised of many roles. There's the walk-on, the key reserve player, the sixth man, the starter and the team leader. While it's rare that one player wears all of these hats at some point throughout his collegiate career, senior Kyle Ohman is an exception.

"Kyle has earned his role and reputation by his incredible hard work," head coach Dale Layer stated. "I admire how he has competed, how he wants to improve and his passion for the game of basketball. He has made our program better each and every year."

Coming to Liberty in the fall of 2005, Ohman tried out for the Flames' basketball team shortly after his arrival, but failed to make the team. After the 2005-06 season, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., native refused to give up and participated in offseason workouts, walking on for the 2006-07 campaign.

In his first season, Ohman appeared in 10 of the Flames' 31 contests, seeing limited minutes behind prolific scorers like Larry Blair and Dwight Brewington. The following year (2007-08), Ohman's role changed dramatically, coming off the bench as Liberty's sixth man. By season's end, he earned a starting spot, receiving the nod in seven of the last nine contests.

"To be honest, I wasn't worried about starting," Ohman said. "Back then, I was just playing my role. As I continued to have success my goals continued to grow, but I wasn't dissatisfied with coming off the bench."

Last season, Ohman started all 35 matchups for the Flames, finishing the year as Liberty's third leading scorer with 13.9 points per game.

After going from a walk-on with limited minutes to a scholarship starter, the guard assumed a new role as Liberty's offensive leader this season, averaging 14.8 points through the first 19 contests. On Jan.14, he joined an exclusive club at Liberty, becoming the 21st member of the program's 1,000-point club.

Needing only three points to reach the milestone heading into the matchup with the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, the senior netted 17 points, upping his career total to 1,014. In the midst of moving up the ladder on Liberty's all-time scoring list, Ohman landed on his wrist twice in the second half, suffering an injury that required surgery.

"When I first injured it during the game, I thought I had just sprained it, because it didn't hurt too bad," Ohman recalled. "I wasn't too upset about it, because I realized it could have been much worse."

Liberty's senior captain suited up 48 hours later against UNC Asheville. For the first time in nearly two years, Ohman came off the bench, scoring nine points in 31 minutes.

"That game was tough," he said. "I would get by someone and I wouldn't have the strength to wrap the ball up and get all the way to the basket. When I would shoot, it was different because my wrist was constraining my guide hand."

After realizing what his limitations were, Ohman elected to undergo surgery to repair the fractured bone in his wrist, forcing him to watch from the sidelines for the first time since earning significant minutes.

With their leading scorer looking on from the bench, the rest of the Flames knew they must work together to fill the void.

"We didn't get a chance to react," redshirt sophomore David Minaya noted. "Coach sat us down as soon as he found out and said, ‘Kyle's down, but we've got to keep playing. The season goes on.'"

"We're managing," Minaya added. "A lot of players have stepped up in his place."

In their second-straight contest without Ohman, the Flames took on the second-place Radford Highlanders inside the Dedmon Center on Jan. 23 in a Big South contest. Staying close to the Highlanders throughout the matchup, the Flames took the lead with 9:29 remaining, en route to a 60-55 decision. Liberty's guards were key in the contest, as Evan Gordon and Jesse Sanders each posted 16 tallies.

On Jan. 28, the Flames returned to the Vines Center to host VMI. Antwan Burrus recorded his first 20-10 performance of his budding collegiate career, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds, helping the Flames move past the Keydets, 91-73.

"Everybody is realizing what they need to do to help us win," Ohman said. "Jeremy is shooting shots when he is open, Evan is scoring when need be, Jesse is finding players open and our defense is looking good. When those things come together, it gives us a chance to win."

During his days as walk-on, the 6-4 guard did not try to think about what could or couldn't be. Instead, he stayed focus on constantly improving his skills in the role he was given. Having gone from not making the team his first year, to being the leading scorer in his final season, Ohman says he is still able to keep things in perspective.

"I don't want to ever feel like I'm more important than someone who is not playing as many minutes or taken as many shots," he stated. "Everyone has different roles and I've played every single role that there is from my freshman to senior year. I don't consider myself any more important than anyone else on the team."

Eric Brown is an assistant athletic communications director for Liberty University, who covers men's basketball.