Darius McGhee was only offered by a few schools during his high school career. Despite being one of the best scorers in the history of North Carolina high school basketball during his time at Roxboro and then transferring to Blue Ridge and helping guide the Barons to a state title, most college coaches weren’t drooling over the 5’9″ guard.
“At that time, the coaches were saying, ‘Oh, you guys got the little guy? Yeah, he’s not bad,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay as he recalled watching McGhee play AAU ball in the summer of 2017 after he had committed to the Flames. “Now, there’s not a coach in the country that wouldn’t take him. Just because he’s 5’9″ doesn’t mean he’s not a high major player.”
McKay stumbled upon the uber-talented McGhee by chance. When his two sons, Gabriel and Luke McKay, were playing at Liberty Christian Academy, the elder McKay attended their game when they were playing against Blue Ridge School and McGhee.
“I think Darius had 16, or something like that, in the first quarter,” recalled McKay. “I called (Blue Ridge coach) Cade (Lemcke) immediately after the game and said, ‘Who is this kid?’ I went with (assistant coach Kyle Getter) the next game they played, I think it was against VES, and I told Coach Cade after the game, I’m offering him a scholarship. I loved him.”
The only other reported offers for McGhee were from Big South schools High Point and Campbell. He would end up committing to McKay and the Flames in March 2017, just a few days after leading Blue Ridge to the state title.
“The only reason he didn’t get more offers is because he’s 5’9″,” said McKay. “He passes the eye test. When you watch him play, how can you not pull for him.”
McKay was at an AAU tournament in the summer before McGhee’s senior year after he had committed to Liberty. McGhee was struggling with his shooting touch to begin the tournament, and McKay called to give him a word of encouragement.
“Darius legitimately went 1 for his first 27 threes, one,” McKay recalled. “I called him after about game four, I said, ‘Hey man, if you’re going to come play for us, you better not stop shooting, that’s a gift you got.’ I think it stunned him.”
That confidence and trust McKay placed in McGhee while he was still in high school, has paid dividends. As Darius prepares to take the floor at Liberty Arena for the final time in a regular season game on Saturday afternoon against Kennesaw State, he has developed not only into the best player on the team but he is arguably the greatest player to ever wear a Liberty basketball jersey.
He is one of only four players to be ranked in the top 20 of Liberty’s career scoring, rebounding, and assists lists, joining Larry Blair, Caleb Homesley, and Lovell Cabbil. McGhee currently ranks No. 6 on the Flames’ career scoring list with 1,750 points. He needs just 28 points to pass Steve Isaacs for No. 5 on the list. He is currently at No. 19 on the rebound list with 492 and No. 19 on the assist list with 268.
McGhee has already become Liberty’s three-point king with 356 career three pointers made and 132 this season. He’s currently averaging 23.9 points per game this season and is on pace to become Liberty’s first 20 ppg scorer in a season since Seth Curry averaged 20.2 in 2008-09. Nobody has averaged as many as 23.9 points per game since Bailey Alston averaged 25.5 ppg in 1989-90. Next week, McGhee could become the first Liberty men’s basketball player to ever win two conference player of the year awards in school history.
“I was never one that was swayed by it,” McGhee said of people disrespecting him because of his size. “When the ball is placed in between the lines, it’s a fight at the end of the day, not just individually, but if you can provide some type of benefit for your team and your team wins the game, you’re obviously doing something of value. As long as you can go out there and fight to go out there and win games, I don’t think anything else matters.”
In addition to his individual accolades, McGhee has been part of some of the best Liberty basketball teams of all time. He was on the 2019 team that won the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament game. McGhee and the Flames have won the ASUN Tournament in each of his three seasons as he has never lost a conference tournament game.
“I think he’s an All-American candidate,” said McKay. “He does so much for our team. He sees the game really well. When you decide to play him one way, I think he does a great job of taking what defenses give us.”
“He’s been a joy to watch,” McKay continued. “It’s really one of the best seasons I’ve seen an individual player have. For him to experience that with such humility, not many 22 year-olds, not many 50 year-olds, have that characteristic. I love the way he pursues it and how he’s been a light to shine in his commitment to other people.”
When many thought he was too small, McGhee has proven on the court that height is just a number. He has been able to overcome his critics and has made a very compelling case for being Liberty’s greatest basketball player of all time.
“You can’t put limitations on guys because of their height,” said McKay. “You’ve got to evaluate his pursuit, his heart, and his investment on the team and its success. Darius McGhee was a five-star in all of the aforementioned. I’m not surprised by his success. I think he’s such a great kid. He’s deferred before his senior year, now he sees the need to do more and he’s done it.”