Fresh off his official visit to Liberty, Zach Cleveland decided to end his recruitment and commit to Coach McKay and the Flames. The 6’8″, 205 pound forward is from Normal, Illinois, and also has offers from Western Carolina, Illinois State, Southeast Missouri State, SIUE, and Belmont.
“When I was able to visit and talk with Coach McKay and visit with some of the players, the relationships I already have with them, I just knew Liberty was the right place,” Cleveland said of his decision to commit to Liberty. “Coach McKay and Coach Johnston flew over to watch one of my games the following weekend (after my visit), and I just knew I was a priority and it was the right fit.”
Zach comes from a very athletic family. His mom is in the Illinois State Athletics Hall of Fame followingher basketball career in the 1980s where she scored over 1,300 career points and later played overseas professionally. His dad played basketball at Hanover College in Indiana. His sister, Grace, is a standout on Purdue’s volleyball team, earning first-team All-American honors this past spring.
Zach will be entering his fourth and final season playing on the varsity team at Normal Community. He became the first player in 22 years for NCHS head coach Dave Witzig to average a double-double with 15.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as a sophomore. This past season, Cleveland led Normal Community to the Big 12 Tournament title while scoring 19 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game win. He averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds as a junior and is preparing for a huge senior campaign.
“I really think Zach could have a great senior year that could really elevate his (recruiting) status,” Witzig said. “He’s starting to make a name for himself. The only way to be recognized when you’re playing in Central Illinois is you have to beat the teams from Chicago, you have to get the notice of the people in Chicago. Zach has done that at these tournaments we’ve been playing in (this summer).”
Cleveland, who was just starting to see his recruiting take off, will now be able to play free and focus on bringing a state championship to Normal Community, one of his primary goals this coming season. For his size, Cleveland is a terrific passer and that is one of the things Liberty’s coaches really liked about him, according to Coach Witzig. He’s also worked hard on improving his perimeter shooting as his high school career has developed.
“Zach really appreciated how Coach Johnston and Coach McKay recruited Zach,” said Witzig. “One thing that is impressive, is they talked about some things he needs to work. They pointed out his weaknesses. We know that the Liberty coaches know his game and know the things that he needs to work on. I think he was impressed with how Coach McKay and Coach Johnston were honest with him, and Zach knows that it is more than just basketball at Liberty. Zach is one of those guys that cares about a family atmosphere. Coach McKay has been super impressive. You’ve got some Liberty fans in Central Illinois now. We will be getting some Liberty gear and tuning in all the time.”
“When Zach comes to Liberty,” Witzig stated, “there’s going to be a lot of people in our area that are disappointed they didn’t recruit him harder.”