Blake Preston Emerges As Valuable Piece in Transition Year For Men’s Basketball

With a spot in the ASUN championship on the line, Blake Preston had four fouls with 4:31 left in the semifinal against Stetson. Head Coach Ritchie McKay had two choices: leave him in and risk him fouling out, or take him out of the game. McKay left Preston in – and it paid off.  

Preston went on to score six points in those final minutes, including a reverse dunk, driving the Flames to a 13-point win and highlighting just how much he has grown since coming to Liberty two years ago.  

“My parents always told me, if you don’t do something to the best of your ability, why do it?” Preston said. “If you feel like you’ve reached the peak of your craft, it’s probably time to do something else.”

Preston’s time at Liberty hasn’t always felt like it was headed toward that success. When Preston arrived in Lynchburg in the fall of 2018, he decided to redshirt his freshman year due to his place on the big-man depth chart. 

In front of Preston were Myo Baxter-Bell and Scottie James, two stalwarts of Liberty’s basketball program. The tandem each brought a unique skillset that demanded opposing teams’ defensive strategies to heavily revolve around slowing them down, a task much easier said than done. James and Baxter-Bell led the Flames to two consecutive ASUN Conference titles in 2019 and 2020 and the team’s first win in the NCAA tournament in 2019.

For much of those two seasons, Preston could only sit on the bench and observe. But McKay never doubted that Blake would one day heavily contribute to his program’s success.

“If we didn’t have Scottie or Myo in front of him, he would have gotten more minutes,” McKay said. “It’s only a matter of time before he becomes an all-conference player.”

Though Preston has taken a while to grow into his role at Liberty, he dazzled in high school, averaging a double-double with 13.8 ppg and 11.2 rpg in his senior season at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina. But perhaps the most telling glimpse of who Preston is as a player came during his junior year, when he earned Most Determined Player honors for the Knights. 

That award was fruit of Preston’s all-or-nothing approach to basketball.

Just like his approach to improving his game in high school, Preston was determined to learn as much as he could from the two big men in front of him during his time on the bench. 

“I learned a lot from Scottie and Myo: what they did to prepare for a game, the lifestyles that they chose, and I just picked bits and pieces of their routine and made it my own,” Preston said. “When you pick the brains and lives of two successful people, you will see good results.”

Preston has certainly seen plenty of rewards for his patience and work ethic, and he has seized his chance in his expanded role for the Flames. That reality even applies to his work off the court. Preston made the ASUN All-Academic Team this season, making the roster with a 3.6 GPA.

Thanks to putting in extra training on the team’s off days, Preston’s defense has also greatly improved since high school – where he was usually the tallest on the floor and could simply raise his hands to play effective defense. Now, he has adapted to taking away specific angles on players in the post and greatly improved his footwork, significantly contributing to a defense that is allowing the third-fewest points per game in the country (59.1).

Preston has put in the effort to improve his game this season (Photo by Ellie Richardson).

While his offensive statistics are not as explosive as they were in high school – 8.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg – his consistency in the post has helped keep the Flames’ offense multifaceted this season. He has also developed a high level of chemistry with junior point guard Darius McGhee, who praised the forward for his unselfish attitude as the season has progressed.

“He’s going to do whatever it takes to win,” McGhee said. “It helps to have selfless guys who are willing to sacrifice and do the little things.”

Preston had 10 points and eight rebounds in Sunday’s ASUN championship victory, helping propel the Flames through a difficult game against the University of North Alabama to win Liberty its third straight ASUN tournament championship.  

With ASUN tournament play over and the NCAA Tournament set to begin, Preston’s work at center will have a massive impact on how long the Flames season lasts. Preston is embracing the challenge – and his determination to succeed and improve is at an all-time high.

“I want to do everything I commit to do the best of my ability, which is the way God calls us to live our lives,” Preston said. “There is always someone better than you who has achieved higher levels of greatness, so there is always a way to improve.”

John Simmons is the Web Manager. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSimmonsJr7.

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