Basketball Preview: Newcomers add depth to Flames
Fans heading out to the Vines Center this season can expect to see plenty of new faces on the men’s basketball team.
The Flames welcome six new players to the team this season with the addition of five freshmen and one redshirt junior. Liberty will still have plenty of experience to help the newcomers adjust to the college environment. Junior guard Jesse Sanders and sophomore Evan Gordon will provide leadership on and off the court this season for the Flames.
“I’ve been impressed with the group as a whole,” Sanders said. “I think they have done a good job of dropping the identity they had in high school and accepting the role that everyone is going to have here.”
John Brown, a redshirt junior transfer from Roane State, is expected to contribute to the Flames immediately. Chene Phillips, Asaad Woods, Stephen Baird, John Caleb Sanders and Sommy Ogukwe make up this year’s freshman class. Baird suffered an injury at the start of the preseason and will redshirt this season.
“John Brown will bring experience, toughness and leadership to our team and he’s been a big help to us already,” head coach Dale Layer said.
John Caleb Sanders is the younger brother of Jesse Sanders and is expected to produce as his brother has.
“We’ve played together on teams since we were 7 and 5 years old and playing college has been a dream since we were little guys,” Jesse Sanders said.
Though the Flames have some young players this season, a solid core group remains from last year’s team. Jesse Sanders returns after leading the team in assists, steals and rebounds and looks again to be dependable in those categories. Gordon also returns after averaging 12 points per game last season. Other returners that will give Liberty depth will be redshirt junior Jeremy Anderson, sophomore Antwan Burrus and redshirt sophomore Carter McMasters.
Gordon was the second leading scorer last season and looks to step up into more of a scoring role this year.
“He’s more mature more confident his skills have improved, and I think anybody who watched him saw him grow and develop as the season progressed, and he’s built upon that,” Layer said. “The day after the season ended he started working towards this year and he’s significantly better.”
Liberty opens the season Nov. 12 at home against Virginia Intermont before heading to South Bend, Ind. to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This is the second year in a row that the Flames have faced off against the Fighting Irish and is a game several players are looking forward to. Another key matchup is against Texas Tech as a part of the South Padre Island Invitational.
“Last year everything was new — the plays and coaching staff – but this year half the team is back. We all know the plays and the new players are learning the plays quicker than we did last year,” Gordon said. “They have the older guys to help them out so we have been improving. “