In less than a week in December 2019, Liberty and head coach Ritchie McKay picked up two commitments from talented class of 2021 prospects Brody Peebles and Joseph Venzant. They committed early during their junior year of high school, a full 11 months before they could make it official and sign with the Flames.
On Thursday, November 11, Peebles and Venzant will finally make their much-anticipated Liberty debut as the Flames play host to Regent at 7 p.m. It’s a day that’s nearly two years in the making for the talented pair of freshmen guards.
“I’m so excited,” Peebles said of the season debut. “It’s been a lot of waiting. First, waiting after I committed to get here. Then, since I’ve been here, it’s been a lot of workouts, a lot of practice, a lot of film session, different stuff trying to get ready. Really excited to get it underway.”
Peebles and Venzant are two of the more heralded recruits to enter the Liberty program under Coach McKay. Peebles comes in as the No. 2 ranked prospect from the state of Alabama by PrepHoops.com as he was a 5A All-State selection in Alabama. He was the 2021 6A Alabama Player of the Year after he scored over 3,000 career points at Hartselle High School. Venzant scored over 2,700 career points at Midland Christian in Midland, Texas where he was ranked as the No. 51 shooting guard in the country for his class.
“Both of them are really good players,” McKay said of Peebles and Venzant. “We’ve only seen them scratch the surface in practice and in small windows of competition, but those guys have a chance to be two of the all-time bests that have donned one of our uniforms. That’s saying something big. We’ve had some guys that have experienced some really good success on and off the floor as people and as players. Those two, and this freshman class as a whole, are fabulous.”
Peebles was one of the most explosive scoring guards in the country as a senior last year. He was a must-see in the state of Alabama each and every night he was on the floor. Now, he must learn to play against bigger, faster, and stronger players at the college level, as well as learn how to fit into Liberty’s packline defensive system.
“My high school team, we wouldn’t even play man defense all the time,” Peebles said of adjusting to learning Liberty’s defensive requirements. “It’s been a transition. The coaches do a great job of getting us better watching film, showing us on the court. The coaches and teammates make it a lot easier by showing you and teaching you and not expecting you to learn it on your own.”
While Peebles is learning how to excel on offense and learning the defensive system, Venzant comes in with the idea of wanting to impact the game on the defensive end of the floor. He watched Elijah Cuffee help the Flames win a third straight conference championship a season ago while making his major contributions on defense as he won the ASUN Defensive Player of the Year honor last year.
“As a freshman, it’s really important for me to impact the game in different ways,” Venzant said. “A lot of people don’t want to play defense, doing the little things that nobody else wants to do is really important to me.”
For McKay and the Flames, they don’t have to rely on Peebles and Venzant to carry the team this season. Liberty, who has won 20 or more games in each of the previous six seasons, returns three starters and most of the contributors from last year’s team who won a third straight ASUN regular season and tournament title. Led by reigning ASUN Player of the Year Darius McGhee, the Flames are stocked with veterans returning who have been able to provide valuable experience to the incoming freshmen, including Peebles and Venzant.
“We’ve been blessed with outstanding player leadership,” McKay said of his tenure at Liberty. “From Anthony Fields to the Caleb’s, the Myo’s, the Zach’s, Lovell, we have had guys that were really committed to being part of something bigger than themselves. They weren’t territorial about their position. They instead embraced the competition and tried to help the young guys. This group has done it as high of a level as I’ve witnessed.”
For Peebles and Venzant the waiting is finally over. On Thursday, they will be able to put on the Liberty uniform for the first game of their collegiate career. It’s the dawn of a career that could see plenty of highlights for the pair of guards.
“I’m very excited,” Venzant said of the season opener. “All the work we put in during the summer, it’s about that time of year to play. I’m very excited to get out there with my teammates.”
*photo courtesy Liberty Athletics