Flames Men’s Basketball team donates to Hurricane Maria relief, looks forward to upcoming season
- Flames rally around teammate hurting from the devastation to his native Puerto Rico and donate proceeds from VCU exhibition game to hurricane relief.
- The Flames will open the 2017-2018 season in the Vines Center on Nov. 10.
The Liberty Flames men’s basketball team was not slated to take the court until Nov. 10, with its first on-court challenge dedicated to the Summit University Defenders. Up to late September, the entire focus was on preparations for this matchup and the ensuing season. This was the plan, until Sept. 20. On that day, basketball took a backseat.
It was on this day the Category 5 storm, Hurricane Maria, devastated Puerto Rico, the home of Flames sophomore guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz.
“I was upset… I wasn’t able to talk or communicate with my family and my friends back home,” Pacheco-Ortiz said.
Pacheco-Ortiz was unable to reach his family, due to more than 90 percent of the island being without power, according to CNN. Despite the fear and concern wrought from his inability to speak with loved ones, Pacheco-Ortiz found solace in his family in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“They have shown me love and support,” Pacheco-Ortiz said. “They were always asking me, ‘Hey, how’s your family?’ every day… I really appreciated it. They mean a lot to me. And that made me feel like I was a part of a family here. It made me feel like home.”
According to junior point guard Lovell Cabbil, the team made a collective effort to support and encourage their hurting teammate.
“(Our reaction) was all just love and caring for Georgie,” Cabbil said. “You could see the emotions throughout his face leading up to that night (of the hurricane) and in that night. We were all there for him, whenever he needed someone.”
As a team, they wanted to do more for their teammate and his home, discussing potential fundraising opportunities. Head coach Richie McKay unveiled an opportunity to do just that.
“Coach came in one day and said we might have a chance of having a game to raise more money for Puerto Rico,” redshirt sophomore forward Myo Baxter-Bell said.
Nearly a month after the hurricanes arrived, the Flames announced they would be taking to the court earlier than anticipated in an exhibition game against the VCU Rams, Oct. 26. All proceeds were allocated to relief funds for Puerto Rico.
Pacheco-Ortiz, already overwhelmed with gratitude for his teammates’ support, was especially grateful for the opportunity to do something for his home.
“The VCU game was emotional (for me),” Pacheco-Ortiz said. “I was playing basketball, but it wasn’t only for a basketball game. It was for my people back home, especially other cities in Puerto Rico that are being affected by the hurricanes.”
The Flames trip to Richmond was a fruitful one, both on and off the court. Along with raising money and awareness, the Flames scorched the Rams 85-69. This game served as an opportunity for the Flames to come together for their teammate. It also allowed a team with five newcomers to gain some much-needed chemistry on the court.
“Our chemistry is going to get better, but it has definitely excelled faster than I expected it to,” Baxter-Bell said.
Despite the potential challenges that may come with such a roster turnaround, multiple returners see potential with each freshman addition.
“Isaiah (Williams) and Scotty (James) are the two biggest standouts,” Cabbil said. “I think they bring something to the team we didn’t have last year: toughness, athleticism and rebounding… throughout the two scrimmages we’ve had, I don’t think they’ve played like freshman. With those guys coming in, I think it’s going to help us a lot next season.”
With any roster changes, there is gain, but, there is also loss. This season, the Flames will do battle without former guard John Dawson, who McKay has hailed as a leader in the locker room and on the court. But sophomore guard Caleb Homesley believes the leadership void left by Dawson’s graduation has already been filled, collectively.
“I would say we all have keyed in on teaching these guys the right way,” Homesly said.
The Flames regular season officially starts Nov. 10, with conference play scheduled to tip off in late December. While McKay’s unit anticipates the chance to expand upon last season’s in-conference success, Cabbil insists his team fully intends to embrace a day-by-day approach this season.
“We’re not going to set any limit on what we can do,” Cabbil said. “We’re looking to take this one step at a time. One game at a time. We’re looking to try and win each game… Hopefully, we’ll end up where we’re trying to be at the end of the season.”
The Flames will begin their pursuit of a Big South Championship Nov. 10 in the Vines Center at 7 p.m.