Over the past five seasons since Ritchie McKay came back to Liberty, he has built this program one step at a time, not taking any shortcuts along the way.
The team grew from losing 84 games in the four seasons before McKay arrived to winning 102 games in the past four seasons. The core group became household names around Liberty basketball.
But the 2020-21 season will be a season of change for the Flames. Gone are Caleb Homesley, Scottie James, Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, and Myo Baxter-Bell. Also gone is the Vines Center which stood as Liberty’s home for 30 seasons.
The 2020-21 season will welcome the brand new Liberty Arena and a talented group of newcomers that will look to build off the foundation the outgoing senior class built.
“We spent five years trying to get here, but now we’re not old anymore,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said.
Liberty goes from being one of the oldest teams in the country to one of the youngest. The roster, as it is currently constructed, has just one senior in Elijah Cuffee. He and Darius McGhee are the only two on the team that have played in more than 34 games.
Those two have a wealth of experience though, having started in 122 games combined and being part of two straight championship teams.
Behind them, only rising sophomores Kyle Rode and Shiloh Robinson have ever played a considerable role for the Flames, as each played in all 34 games as true freshmen. They will be counted on to step up in a big way next season, and likely be part of the opening night starting rotation.
The biggest question mark right now might be who can become that 5th starter and who will provide valuable minutes off the bench.
McKay still has one scholarship available, likely to go to a graduate transfer who can help soften the blow of losing James and Baxter-Bell in the post, and he could have another scholarship available if any current player decides to transfer.
“I think next year we’ve got a chance,” said McKay. “Some things have to fall in place for us, but we might mess around, this team might do some things too.”
Blake Preston will see a significant increase in his role as well. He redshirted as a true freshman two seasons ago and played sparingly behind James and Baxter-Bell this past year, but McKay sees potential in the 6’9″ forward from Charlotte.
Marten Maide sat out the 2019-20 season as he recovered from a knee injury, and he could push for playing time, as well.
McKay and his staff also welcome a group of freshmen that include Drake Dobbs, Jonathan Jackson, Isiah Warfield, and Micaiah Abii.
Dobbs played for one of the best high school teams in Minnesota and was frequently ranked among the top 25 teams in the country this past year. He will be expected to come in and fight for playing time at point guard as a true freshman.
Jackson is a lengthy wing from Kansas and the younger brother of North Carolina and NBA veteran Justin Jackson, while Warfield is the highest rated prospect to sign with Liberty. Abii has many similar attributes as Baxter-Bell and at his size could be factor at forward as well.
The expectations will be gone. No one will pick this team to three-peat as ASUN champs, but never count out a team led by Ritchie McKay.
“We will go back to work as soon as our guys get back,” McKay said. “We won’t have the high expectations nor the preseason rankings, but we do have a program that has a solid foundation. I wouldn’t put anything past this group of young men because they are terrific.”