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2011-12 Men's Basketball Outlook: Point Guards

October 27, 2011  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Flames' point guard Jesse Sanders (right) returns to the floor for Liberty after earning 2010-11 Big South Player of the Year honors.

Flames' point guard Jesse Sanders (right) returns to the floor for Liberty after earning 2010-11 Big South Player of the Year honors.

With the 2011-12 men's basketball season less than two weeks away, is featuring a four-part series that will preview the upcoming year. Today's article provides a look at the Flames' point guards.

When looking at Liberty's point guards, Jesse Sanders leads the pack, coming off a season where he ranked No. 23 in the country and was the Big South leader in assists. The rising senior also finished 18th in the league in scoring and 11th in rebounding.

Along with being tabbed Big South Player of the Year and AP All-America Honorable Mention, Sanders was also named first team all-conference, Mid-Major All-America Honorable Mention, Second Team National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-District and Second Team Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) All-State.

"Jesse is obviously coming off a terrific year as Big South Player of the Year, which will make him the guy that everybody looks to stop on the opponent's scouting report," Layer stated.

With 566 rebounds and 472 assists during his time at Liberty, Sanders became the first player in Big South history to garner at least 500 career boards and 400 assists. Thanks to a 10-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist effort against Charleston Southern this past season, he is also the only player in conference history to have three career triple-doubles.

Coming into his final season as a Flame, Sanders is on pace to possibly finish his career at the top of the program and conference record books as the all-time assist leader. Despite Sanders' previous three years of success, Layer is confident his floor general is determined to finish what he started.

"He's always accepted and responded to every challenge," Layer stated. "He continues to work as hard as anybody in the country. Anytime a guy can lead you in scoring, rebounding and assists on a given day, month or season you know he is a really good player. Jesse finds a way to win using all that he has to do just that."

Backing up Sanders is a sophomore who has shown he can provide quality minutes at the No. 1 spot. Stepping on the court as Liberty's No. 3 point guard during the 2010-11 season, Chene Phillips enters this year as the first alternate.

Last season, Phillips took the place of Sanders in Liberty's game against Union College (Dec. 28), receiving his first career start. The Detroit, Mich., native tied his season high in scoring with eight points, while also adding four rebounds and two assists in the Flames' win.

Phillips was also instrumental in helping the Flames garner their first win at UNC Asheville (Jan. 2) in nearly six years. Playing a season-high 19 minutes, the backup guard chipped in seven points in Liberty's 59-55 win inside the Justice Center. During Liberty's Foreign Tour this past August, Phillips displayed a more improved game at the point.

"Chene is greatly improved over a year ago," Layer noted. "Last season, he stepped in at both guard positions and had a big game at UNC Asheville, giving us a big lift. He is capable of helping us out as a sophomore. He just needs to embrace the point position where we need him to play."

Liberty's third option at point guard is freshman Kelly Assinesi.  A two-year letter winner at Pasadena before completing final two years at St. Joseph's Catholic in Greenville, S.C., Assinesi finished his high school career with 1,800 total points. During his junior year, he was one of the top scorers in the state of South Carolina, averaging 27.0 points per game.

"Kelly had an outstanding high school career," Layer noted. "He is a pure point guard with an ability to score in different ways. He has a great feel for the game and has a chance to step in there and help us."