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Behind the Line with Flames Backcourt

October 30, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Jesse Sanders is one of the Flames' two returning starters heading into the 2009-10 season.

Jesse Sanders is one of the Flames' two returning starters heading into the 2009-10 season.

Before the first whistle is blown marking the beginning of the 2009-10 Liberty men's basketball season, will preview this year's roster, breaking down each player according to position. Last week, we provided a comprehensive analysis of Liberty's post players. In the second installment, we take a look at the Flames' backcourt.

The Guards

Once again, Liberty takes the floor this season loaded with a mixture of guards, including two returning starters and a few fresh faces. Headlining the group is Flames workhorse, Kyle Ohman. Beginning his career as walk-on, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., native broke loose last season, posting career highs in every major statistical category. An emotional on-court leader, Ohman was the Flames' third-leading scorer during the 2008-09 campaign, averaging 13.9 points per game and chipping in 5.6 boards.

"Kyle is such a competitor," Layer said. "No matter what assignment he is given, he attacks it with desire and intensity. He's gone from walk-on, part-time player to starter and one of the best players in the Big South."

Last season, the 6-4 shooting guard found his niche behind the three-point arc, hitting 41.5 percent of his shots from downtown. Ohman's long-range accuracy ranked him No. 26 in the nation in three-point efficiency. During Liberty's road win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Nov. 25, the senior lit it up from long-distance, knocking down five treys in the opening 20 minutes. Ohman's hot hand that night allowed him to rack up 17 first-half points, tying the record for most first-half points at John Paul Jones Arena, a mark he shares with recently graduated UNC Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough.

"Kyle's ability to shoot is something that was evident last year," added Layer. "But, what is probably underappreciated is his toughness, his ability to score in other ways and his ability to defend the best player on the other team at the three or the four spot. Despite giving up inches to most opponents on most nights, he tries to outwork them and that's what makes Kyle a special player and very valuable to our team."

The other returning starter in the backcourt next to Ohman is the Flames' assist leader from last season, Jesse Sanders. A member of the Big South All-Freshman team in 2008-09, the 6-3 point guard averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to go along with his 137 dimes.

Armed with a high basketball IQ, the former homeschooler committed zero turnovers in nine of the 32 contests in which he appeared. Sanders' low turnover count resulted in an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4, ranking him No. 22 in the nation. Heading into the 2009-10 campaign, Sanders is expected to lead the Flames as the team's floor general.

"Jesse is the heart of our team," Layer said. "He is a unique person in that he thinks about the team way more than himself. I thought that he was one of the best point guards in the league last year. Hopefully, he'll continue to improve and lead us on and off the floor, and be our heartbeat."

Three redshirt sophomores hoping to make a big impact on the scoring charts this season are Johnny Stephene, Jeremy Anderson and David Minaya.
Appearing in all 35 contests last season, Stephene proved he could contribute, posting 15 points on Dec. 19 against Saint Louis.

"Johnny has worked extremely hard in the offseason," Layer noted. "He had an up and down year as a redshirt freshman last year, but that is kind of normal. We're expecting Johnny to build upon that and give us great scoring, leadership and toughness and capitalize on all the hard work he has put into his game in the offseason."

After sitting out for a season due to the NCAA transfer rule, Minaya is also expected to provide a scoring presence for the Flames. In his lone year at Tennessee Tech, he posted double figures in games against Rutgers, Oregon State and Morehead State.

The bar is set high for Minaya, as Layer hopes the 6-6 guard can fill in the gaps left by the absence of 2009 graduate Anthony Smith. Rounding out a stellar career at Liberty, Smith finished the 2008-09 season with 615 points, placing him at No. 9 in the Big South and No. 6 in school history with 1,754 total points. Looking at Smith's numbers, there is no doubt the transfer has some big Nikes to fill.

"We're counting on David to have a good season," Layer commented. "We need him to be able to score baskets for us to give us the scoring punch we lost last year."

Coming off a season in which he sat out due to an injured left foot, Anderson will return to the court as one of the Flames' go-to guys behind the three-point arc. Two seasons ago, Anderson's ability to dial-in from long-distance earned him Big South All-Freshman team honors. Now, after receiving a medical redshirt, the 6-4 shooting guard hopes to build upon his freshman year success.

"Jeremy is an incredibly hard worker," Layer said. "His unique ability to make shots from 25 feet and in will allow us to stretch defenses."

Rounding out the returners in the backcourt for Liberty are sophomore Bill Weaver and junior James Spencer, who both appeared in nearly all of the Flames' contests last season. The two Virginia natives are regarded by Layer as solid defenders, who could step in as key role players this season.
"Bill gives us great energy," Layer stated. "He is a very valuable member of who we are every day with his work ethic and attitude."

"James is glue to our team when he is on the floor," he added. "We're expecting him to continue to improve and build upon a productive sophomore season."

A newcomer at guard to the Flames' roster is following in his father's footsteps. The son of former three-time Liberty letterwinner Eric Gordon, Evan Gordon comes from the nationally known high school/prep school, Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Playing on the post-graduate team as a 12th grader, Gordon averaged 13 points and six assists, helping Hargrave reach the National Prep Showcase Finals in 2009.

Prior to his time at Hargrave, Gordon suited up at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind., where he played alongside his brother and current L.A. Clippers guard, Eric. Now, Gordon will don the same colors his father did in the early 80s, when he tallied 1,154 as a Flame. Heading into the season, Layer sees great potential in the younger Gordon.

"He gives us help at both guard positions and has the ability to help us at both ends," Layer noted of the 6-2 guard. "I think he's got a chance to really contribute as a freshman."

Another young lion who is anxious to take the court this season is Perez. Hailing from the same high school as Minaya, Oldsmar Christian in Oldsmar, Fla., Perez is a 6-4 freshman with a strong work ethic. Viewed as an energy boost to the Flames roster, the guard is known as a wing player who has the ability to defend, sink long-range jumpers and drive to the basket.

"Chris is an incredible competitor," Layer said when speaking of the Florida native. "There won't be a player this year who will outwork him and that's what has gotten him to this point. The way he plays, he will find a way to help the team."

Be sure to check back with for the latest Liberty men's basketball coverage leading up to the Flames' season opener, Nov. 13 against George Mason at the Patriot Center. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. The following evening, Liberty returns to the Vines Center for its home opener with Southern Virginia at 7 p.m.