The 2018-19 version of the Liberty Flames’ men’s basketball team boasts numerous familiar names and faces as the team returns 4 starters and 6 of its top 7 scorers from last season’s squad which was mere seconds from advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 6 years. Liberty basically returns all major contributors with the exception of Ryan Kemrite, but it may be the newcomers who are able to push the Flames over the top during its first season in the ASUN.
“This is a great group of newcomers,” McKay said when discussing the 4 new additions to his roster in Keenan Gumbs, Darius McGhee, Blake Preston, and Josh Price.
Gumbs is a graduate transfer from Division III Schreiner University where he was named the 2018 SCAC Player of the Year and SCAC Tournament MVP after averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. “His maturity, leadership gift, all-in for the team disposition is an absolute God-send. He’s fabulous,” McKay said as he gushed about his most recent graduate transfer, joining the likes of Anthony Fields and Ray Chen.
“Keenan’s a do everything guy,” McKay continued. “He’s got a utility belt. His superhero would be Batman because he can do a lot of different things. Keenan has a chance to impact because of his size and physicality.”
The 6’5″ forward is originally from Cibolo, Texas, and chose Liberty over numerous Division I scholarship offers including Campbell, Youngstown State, Cal State Bakersfield, and Indiana State. The main three things he was looking for in a school to utilize his graduate transfer was for a quality education (he’s an exercise science major), a program that was established and not rebuilding, and also an opportunity to play. Gumbs felt like Liberty offered all 3 of those.
McGhee, a 5’9″ guard from Roxboro, North Carolina, helped lead Blue Ridge to the 2017 VISAA State title. He averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game during his senior campaign as he was named a 2018 VISAA Division II All-State selection. A prolific scorer in high school, he amassed over 3,000 points in his career. He likes to watch other smaller guards in the NBA like Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson for inspiration, and he’s learning everything he can from Elijah Cuffee to get tips on how to impact the game as a true freshman.
“Darius, I knew what I was getting,” McKay said. “We recruited him for a good year and a half. He’s small in stature, but nothing else – big heart, big confidence. I think he’s going to be fun to watch.”
Price and Preston played together at Charlotte Christian School from 8th through 10th grade. The 6’9″ Preston committed to Liberty in May 2017, and had conversations with Coach McKay about Price and his ability. Josh, the son of 12-year NBA veteran and long time coach Mark Price, plays with an incredibly high basketball IQ, thanks primarily to his time being around NBA and college practices for his entire childhood.
“Josh is quiet, a little reserved, a little slower to jump right in, but he’s been impressive on the court with his IQ and some of his skill,” McKay said. “I think the only question is how quickly he will get strong enough for this level.”
During his recruiting process, many college coaches just assumed Josh would end up playing for his dad at Charlotte, but he had other ideas. “In the back of my mind, I didn’t (want to play for my dad),” he explained. “If I would have, people would have said, ‘Oh, you’re only playing here because of your dad.'”
The younger Price says he will do whatever it takes to help the team win. “I don’t care if I’m scoring 20 points a game, I just want to do what I can do to help the team.”
Preston, who is every bit of the 6’9″ he is listed at, averaged 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game during his senior season at Charlotte Christian, the same school that produced current NBA player and former Flame Seth Curry. He had offers from several schools including Furman, Wofford, Elon, and fellow ASUN member Lipscomb. In fact, Blake’s grandfather played at Lipscomb, but he said Liberty felt like home.
“Defensively, I know I can provide shot blocking and shot adjusting,” Preston said of how he can help the team this year. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, even if that includes cheering on the team from the bench.”
In addition to the 4 new scholarship athletes, McKay also welcomes two new members to his coaching staff in assistant coach Derek Johnston and Director of Player Development Joe Pierre III.
“Derek, boy he has a sharp basketball IQ. He’s a great fit for us,” McKay stated. “Joe Pierre is a young up and comer. I feel like the G League in some sense, having so many assistants leave for ‘greener pastures’, and these two are candidates for that as well. Hopefully, while we’re fortunate enough to have them, their impact will be felt long and wide.”
Johnston comes to Liberty after spending the past 4 seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Alabama-Huntsville. He helped guide the Chargers to the Division II NCAA Tournament in 3 of his 4 seasons. Johnston’s coaching career also includes an assistant coaching stop for two years at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, guiding them to a Division III Elite 8 appearance in 2013 and the national championship game in 2014. He also had a hand in helping to recruit the 2014 D3hoops.com National Rookie of the Year Duncan Robinson, who later transferred to Michigan.
Pierre has spent the past two seasons as a graduate assistant at Middle Tennessee State under head coach Kermit Davis. He’s the son of Butch Pierre, a long time assistant coach with stints at Mississippi State, Charlotte, LSU, Oklahoma State, NC State, and Memphis. His brother, Josh, is currently the director of operations for Arkansas State.