When Coach McKay was hired on April 1, 2015 as Liberty’s head basketball coach, he had plans of building the Flames into a nationally relevant mid-major program. Considering the team was coming off 4 straight losing seasons, including 3 consecutive 20+ loss seasons, there was a long way to climb.
As is always the case with any athletic program rebuild, it begins and ends with the student-athletes. Recruiting is every program’s life blood, whether it’s football, men’s basketball, or any other sport.
McKay was taking over a program that was at rock bottom. The Flames had just 5 returning scholarship players, none of which had extensive playing experience, and only 1 signed incoming freshman in Caleb Homesley. With the season tipping off only 7 months after being named head coach, he had his work cut out for him to try to assemble a team.
His first offer, which came just two weeks after being hired, was to a frail combo guard from a random town in Texas who had just a couple of low level DI and DII schools showing interest, Lovell Cabbil.
“When I recruited him, he was literally 140 some odd pounds,” McKay said. “He played in some obscure gym in April, and the only reason he even caught my eye was because we had such a desperate need for a guy that could make a shot. I liked the way he played, his disposition on the floor.”
Despite his small frame, Cabbil is his high school’s all-time leading scorer, and averaged 21.4 points per game as a senior. Less than a week after being offered, Cabbil became McKay’s first commitment since returning as Liberty’s head coach.
He arrived on campus and immediately made an impact. He started his first career game in which he made the game winning free throws with 2 seconds left on the clock. Cabbil has started 95 games and played in 101 during his Liberty career. He’s gone from a frail, 140 pound tweener, to a confident, 177 pound leader.
“From the first day, he’s made an impact on our group,” McKay said. “Becoming a two-way player is not easy. His ownership and commitment to the defensive end, the way he’s developed offensively and made himself more complete has really helped accelerate our growth as a program. He’s had a lot to do with Liberty basketball’s success and upward trajectory.”
Since Cabbil arrived, there’s been no more 20 loss seasons. Those have been traded out for 20 win seasons and postseason appearances. He scored the first Liberty points this season when he connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner on the team’s 2nd possession of the year. That 3-pointer, his 141st as a Flame, launched him over 1,000 career points, becoming the 26th player in program history to reach that mark.
He’s on pace to finish his career in the top 15 in program history in both scoring and rebounding. His current pace will put him over 1,300 points and 500 rebounds, which if he’s able to accomplish that feat, he would be the first Flame to do so since Anthony Smith and the 7th to ever reach both of those marks.
“It’s an honor (to score 1,000 points),” Cabbil said. “Nobody thought I could play at this level. They said I was too small. For me, it’s just playing with a chip on my shoulder for 4 years.”
“What an incredible journey of growth that he has experienced,” McKay said of his senior guard. “I’m proud of Lovell. His growth and maturity, his investment and the skin he has put in the game for Liberty basketball and this University has been significant. I’m really proud of him.”