Lady Flames basketball prepare for strong season ahead
- Young primarily underclassman team led by sophomore Keyen Green and the team’s lone senior Nene Johnson.
- Returning and new players already have strong chemistry and are preparing for preseason opener on Nov. 10.
Last year the Liberty women’s basketball team started the season 1-11 before rebounding in conference play by going 12-6, only to have their season abruptly ended by losing in the final 30 seconds of the Big South quarterfinals game.
The 2016-2017 season was marked with learning experiences for the young Lady Flames team, which consisted of only four upperclassmen out of the 15 players on the roster. This year the team is still made up of primarily underclassmen, but the young team is eager to expand off the success they had last season and contend for the Big South Championship.
“We’re still a young team with 11 (underclassmen),” head coach Carey Green said. “The more they experience, the more confident they get. Those experiences are invaluable to grow.”
Last season, the Lady Flames underclassmen accounted for over 70 percent of the minutes played. Although Liberty’s inexperience was displayed throughout the season, the young Lady Flames team was able to build chemistry while showing its potential.
Liberty led the Big South in rebound margin (+9.0) and offensive rebounds (17.3 rpg) and the team finished the year with 165 three-pointers made last year. Liberty also paced the Big South in individual accolades as Keyen Green, Iva Ilic and Ola Makurat were all selected to the Big South All-Freshman team. Keyen Green established herself as one of the most talented players in the Big South, as she recorded nine double-doubles to help her earn Big South Freshman of the year honors.
After posting such a dominant rookie campaign, Keyen Green was voted onto the 2017 first team Preseason All-Big South squad. The sophomore forward realizes that opposing teams will largely include defending her in their game plan, given her success last year.
“I try not to think about other teams (focusing) on me,” Keyen Green said. “I treat every competition the same – just go out there and play.”
Another leader for the Lady Flames is Nene Johnson, the lone senior in the starting lineup. Johnson led Liberty in assists last year (85) and also finished second in scoring behind Keyen Green.
“As the only starting senior, I have the most experience on the court,” Johnson said. “(Leadership) comes natural. I am the point guard on the floor, so I’m used to people looking at me and asking questions on the court.”
The Lady Flames finished second to last in turnover margin last year (-4.13), so coach Green made a point of emphasis this offseason to try to eliminate the mistakes.
“Our approach to (cutting down turnovers) is more live play,” coach Green said. “We’re trying to encourage the (players) to understand the tactics we’re trying to use, both offensively and defensively. There are turnovers that happen because players are putting themselves in positions not to be successful.”
Although the Lady Flames have made a lot of progress this offseason, coach Green acknowledged that those developments take a while to translate to in-game success.
“I’ve seen vast improvement, but it’s going to take some time to get all the experiences together,” coach Green said. “They’ve worked very hard over the summer. You can see the difference in their confidence, but we’re trying to have them grow in understanding.”
Coach Green also spoke highly of the seven players the team added in the offseason, which include three freshman and four transfers.
“These freshmen and transfers are very, very talented,” coach Green said. “The (starters) will be pushed. It’s good that we’re that competitive and that our (bench) runs that deep.”
Coming out of training camp, the Lady Flames are ready to put into practice the skills they have honed over the offseason.
“Last year everything was new and we played very nervous,” Ilic said. “Now we know what the coaches are expecting from us and what our job is.”
The Lady Flames also worked on getting in better shape in order to compete at their highest potential.
“Everybody’s back, everybody’s better, everybody’s stronger, everybody’s faster,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to see us put all the hard work we put in over the summer together.”
Despite only being together for a few months, the team has already established a unique bond.
“I love this team,” coach Green said. “There’s a lot of energy and they all get along. I think they light each other’s fire. We did a team retreat and the theme was: we’re one. One heartbeat, one team and we need to pull for one another. I think the concept of that principle is invaluable to our team to be successful.”
Liberty’s first preseason game is against Old Dominion University Nov. 10, in Norfolk, Virginia. The Lady Flames will travel to Amherst, Massachusetts, Nov. 24 to face off against Houston University for their regular season opener.