|School Name:||Liberty University|
|Arena:||Liberty Arena (primary)|
Vines Center (secondary)
|Head coach:||Ritchie McKay|
- 1 History
- 1.1 Coaches
- 1.1.1 Dan Manley (1972–1977)
- 1.1.2 Harley Swift (1977–1978)
- 1.1.3 Dale Gibson (1978–1981)
- 1.1.4 Jeff Meyer (1981–1997)
- 1.1.5 Randy Dunton (1997–1998)
- 1.1.6 Mel Hankinson (1998–2003)
- 1.1.7 Randy Dunton (2003–2007)
- 1.1.8 Ritchie McKay (first stint, 2007–2009)
- 1.1.9 Dale Layer (2009-2015)
- 1.1.10 Ritchie McKay (second stint, 2015–present)
- 1.1 Coaches
- 2 Notable players
- 3 List of Liberty Flames Seasons
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 External Links
The Liberty Men's Basketball program began in 1972 under head coach Dan Manley. Liberty University is the second youngest school in NCAA Division I, founded in 1971 (Florida Gulf Coast University was founded in 1991 and began instruction in 1997).[n 1] The Flames finished 13-14 in the inaugural season. As of the 2020–21 season, the Flames have had 8 different head coaches of their Men's Basketball team (Dan Manley 1972-77, Harley Swift 1977-78, Dale Gibson 1978-81, Jeff Meyer 1981-97, Randy Dunton 1997-98 and 2003–2007, Mel Hankinson 1998-2003, Ritchie McKay 2007-09 and 2015–present, Dale Layer 2009–2015). As of the end of the 2008-2009 season, the Flames had an overall record of 524-555 (48.6%).
Liberty has qualified for postseason play eight times in its NCAA Division I history. The Flames fell to North Carolina (71-51) in the first round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament after winning the Big South tournament. Liberty lost to Saint Joseph's (82-63) in the 2004 NCAA tournament after crushing High Point (89-44) to claim its second Big South Conference Tournament Championship. Upon falling in the semi-finals of the Big South Conference tournament in the 2008-09 season, the Flames were invited to the inaugural CIT Tournament. Liberty defeated Rider in the first round before falling to the JMU in the quarterfinals.
The Flames' next NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2013, when they lost 73–72 to North Carolina A&T in the First Four. So far, their most successful postseason runs have come during McKay's second stint as head coach. In 2017 and 2018, the Flames made the CIT, winning two games in both before losing their third (quarterfinals in 2017, semifinals in 2018). In LIberty's first ASUN season, the Flames won the 2019 ASUN Tournament and scored their first NCAA tournament win, defeating Mississippi State 80–76 in the first round before losing 67–58 to Virginia Tech. Liberty won the ASUN Tournament again in 2020, only to see the NCAA Tournament canceled due to COVID-19. They again won the ASUN Tournament in 2021.
Prior to joining the NCAA, Liberty won the 1980 National Christian College Athletic Association championship against Point Loma College (68-65), and appeared in the 1983 NAIA Tournament, winning over Catawba and Wisconsin–Stevens Point before losing to Chaminade.
Dan Manley (1972–1977)
In 1972, Liberty University, known then as Lynchburg Baptist College, played its first game in the National Christian College Association under head coach Dan Manley. The team practiced at the City Armory and Lynchburg Christian Academy, games were held at the Jefferson Forest High School. LBC's first victory came against Southland College, winning 88-45. That season LBC would finish 7-1. It was the following year in 1973 that LBC would play its first varsity schedule, finishing its first official season at 13-14.
Lynchburg Baptist College became Liberty Baptist College in 1975, changing its colors from green and gold to red, white and navy blue. That same year the Flame entered the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Mike Goad became Liberty's first basketball All-American.
Harley Swift (1977–1978)
Harley "Skeeter" Swift was named Liberty's second men's basketball coach. Mark Chafin was the second Liberty player to be name NCCAA All-American.
Dale Gibson (1978–1981)
Dale Gibson became Liberty's third men's basketball coach in 1978. Mike Goad, an assistant for Gibson at the time, became the first player in Liberty's history to have his jersey (44) retired. On November 30, 1979, the Flames opened Liberty Gym against Mount Vernon Nazarene University with a 95-81 win. On December 8, 1979, the Flames traveled to Lexington, Va to play VMI, their first NCAA Division I opponent, losing 106-58.
In 1980, Liberty joined the NCAA Division II level as an associate member. The Flames won the NCCAA National Championship and posted a 28-11 record. Karl Hess and Ed Vickers were named NCCAA All-Americans. Hess was also named a CoSIDA Academic All-American.
Jeff Meyer (1981–1997)
On March 25, 1981, Jeff Meyer was name Liberty's fourth men's basketball coach. Liberty Baptist became a full member of the NCAA Division II level and also became eligible for NAIA postseason competition. The Flames Sports Network began with Jerry Edwards handling the play-by-play. LBC moved into the new Liberty Gym. In 1982, Steve Isaacs became Liberty's first NAIA All-American. The next year Liberty is accepted as a member of the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC). The Flames finished fifth in the NAIA National Championships with a 23-9 record. Steve Isaacs was named NAIA All-American for the second straight year. Liberty Baptist joined the Mason-Dixon Athletic Conference.
In 1984, the Flames became eligible for NCAA Division II postseason competition. Ezra Hill became the first Liberty Baptist player drafted in the NBA. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Phoenix Suns. Liberty Baptist College became Liberty University in 1985. Cliff Webber was named a Division II All-American by Basketball Times. Webber was drafted in the fourth round by the Boston Celtics.
Liberty was accepted for NCAA Division I membership on Sept. 1, 1988. Liberty defeated Brooklyn College (80-65) on Nov. 26, 1988 for its first Division I victory. On Nov. 30, 1990, Liberty opened the Vines Convocation Center against VMI. VMI defeated the Flames, 69-61. On July 1, 1991, Liberty became an official member of the Big South Conference.
Liberty completed the 1991-92 season with a 16 1/2 game turnaround which tied the NCAA record for the best turnaround, by a Division I school. The Flames finished with a 22-7 mark and concluded the regular season with a second-place finish in the Big South Conference. Liberty finished second in the country in field goal percentage (.520) and 11th in three-point field goal percentage (.421). Julius Nwosu was named first team all-conference and Keith Ferguson was a second team selection. Head coach Jeff Meyer earned Virginia Sports Information Directors Coach of the Year honors.
In 1993, the Flames posted their first win ever over in-state opponent Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Then in 1994, Liberty claimed its first-ever Big South Conference Tournament title against Campbell, 76-62. The championship game was featured on ESPN with over 800 students making the trek to Charleston, S.C. Liberty qualified for the NCAA Tournament and faced defending national champion North Carolina. Liberty also claimed the lead with under 10 minutes left, 47-46. The Tar Heels ended with the win, 71-51, but the Flames proved to be a strong competitor in the biggest game in the history of the program.
Julius Nwosu was signed by the San Antonio Spurs in 1995, making him the first Flame basketball player to play on a NBA team. Matt Hildebrand became the second Liberty player to ever have his jersey retired.
On March 1, 1997, Liberty played in the championship game of the Big South Conference Tournament for the second straight year and third time in the past four years. The Flames dropped a 64-54 decision to Charleston Southern. Peter Aluma finished his career as the school’s and conference’s leading shot blocker. He also was selected as the Big South Tournament’s MVP for the second time in his career and was named to the NABC all-district second-team.
Randy Dunton (1997–1998)
On Nov. 1, 1997, Jeff Meyer, head coach of the Flames basketball program for 16 years, stepped down to accept the position of assistant to the president of Liberty University. Randy Dunton was named interim head coach. Jan. 7, 1998, Liberty defeated UVA for the first time in the school’s history, 69-64, in Charlottesville, Va. That also marked the first Atlantic Coast Conference opponent that the Flames had ever defeated.
Mel Hankinson (1998–2003)
On April 8, 1998, Mel Hankinson was named the fifth head coach in the school’s history, coming to Liberty after serving as the top assistant coach at West Virginia for the previous five years. Hankinson’s first recruiting class was ranked between 20th and 43rd by four major recruiting publications, marking the best recruiting class by Liberty and in the Big South Conference.
Carl Williams finished the 1999-2000 season as the nation's leader in steals per game, averaging 3.8 takeaways per contest, becoming the first player in school history to lead the nation individually in a statistical category.
Randy Dunton (2003–2007)
On March 6, 2002, Randy Dunton was named the sixth head coach in the school’s history. He returned to the Liberty campus after serving two years as the head coach at Marshalltown Community College and as an assistant coach at Binghamton University.
On March 6, 2004, Liberty claimed its second-ever Big South Championship with an 89-44 victory over High Point in the championship game in front of 8,515 fans in the Vines Center. The win marked the largest margin of victory in the history of the Big South Championship. Liberty made its second-ever appearance in an NCAA Tournament game as the 16th-seeded Flames squared off against top-seeded St. Joseph's at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY. The Flames dropped an 82-63 decision to the eventual Elite Eight team.
Liberty traveled to play the Kentucky Wildcats on Nov. 25, 2005. There were 22,717 fans crammed into the famous Rupp Arena, serving as the largest crowd to ever see a Liberty game, as Kentucky defeated the Flames by a score of 81-51. Following the 2005-2006 season, Larry Blair earned VaSID all-state basketball first team honors, becoming just the second Flames player to earn first-team honors, joining Peter Aluma who was named to the first team in 1996 and 1997. Blair also joined Aluma as the only Flames to have earned VaSID honors twice.
Liberty honored all-time leading scorer Karl Hess by retiring his jersey prior to the Flames’ 64-56 victory over Conference USA foe East Carolina on Dec. 2, 2006.
One week later, Larry Blair scored 18 points against Longwood University to pass Peter Aluma (1,715 points), becoming Liberty’s all-time leading Division I scorer. On Jan. 30, 2007, With 15 points against visiting UNC Asheville, Larry Blair became the third player in Liberty and Big South Conference history to reach the 2,000-point plateau. Feb. 21, 2007, Larry Blair scored 28 points in Liberty’s 118-108 victory at VMI to pass Tony Dunkin of Coastal Carolina, becoming the Big South Conference’s all-time leading scorer. Blair’s second field goal of the evening, at the 11:19 mark in the first half, broke the record when the senior guard dunked home two points on a fast break.
After the 2006-2007 season, Larry Blair was named to the Big South all-conference first team for the third consecutive year, making him the fourth player in school history to earn all-conference honors four times. Blair earned second team honors as a freshman as well as being named Big South Freshman of the Year.
Ritchie McKay (first stint, 2007–2009)
On March 26, 2007, Ritchie McKay was named the seventh head coach in school history. After the 2007-2008 season, Alex McLean was named to the Big South All-Conference first team, marking the sixth-straight year Liberty has placed a player on the first team, tying the second-best streak in conference history. Jeremy Anderson was named to the all-freshman squad, while Kyle Ohman received all-academic honors.
Peter Aluma became the first Liberty men’s basketball player enshrined in the Big South Conference’s Hall of Fame on May 29, 2008.
McKay left after the 2008–09 season to become the top assistant at Virginia under his mentor Tony Bennett.
Dale Layer (2009-2015)
After the 2008-2009 season, Liberty University Director of Athletics Jeff Barber announced that Dale Layer has been named the program’s eighth head men’s basketball coach. Layer returns to Liberty Mountain after previously serving as an assistant coach for the Flames during the 2007-08 season.
Ritchie McKay (second stint, 2015–present)
McKay returned to Liberty in 2015 after six seasons at Virginia under Bennett. His second stint has been highlighted by Liberty's 2018 move to the ASUN Conference, followed by ASUN tournament titles in each of the Flames' first three seasons in that conference. The Flames' current home of Liberty Arena opened for the 2020–21 season.
6 seasons (second stint)
Record, second stint: 138–65
Overall record: 177–93
Matt Hildebrand #20
One of the top players to ever wear a Liberty uniform, Matt Hildebrand excelled on and off on the court during his four-year career. He helped lead the Flames to their first-ever Big South Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 1994.
Because of his achievements over his four-year career at Liberty, Hildebrand was brought back on December 3, 1994, to have his jersey retired in front of the home fans in the Vines Center. Hildebrand, an all-conference performer, started every game during his career at Liberty and holds numerous school and conference records. The 1994 Big South Conference Male Athlete of the Year, he was ranked fourth in the nation in free throw percentage during his sophomore and senior years.
He scored over 1,500 points, 385 rebounds and dished out 583 assists, while shooting 45 percent from the floor. He also hit a school-record 207 three-pointers. Hildebrand still holds the Big South Conference record for free throw percentage (.904). Hildebrand was also the recipient of the 1993-94 Rock Royer/Mack Rivera award which goes to the most accomplished Liberty student athlete of the year.
Julius Nwosu #00
Julius Nwosu was the first big man to excel at Liberty, since the school became an NCAA Division I member in 1988. He was the first Flame to play in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs in 1995. Nwosu also helped lead the Flames into their first year as a member of the Big South Conference and to their first 20-win season (23-7, 1992) in nine years and first at the NCAA Division I level.
In front of the home fans at the Vines Center, Nwosu had his jersey retired. He earned all-Big South Conference honors as a junior and senior and ranked among the conference's scoring, rebounding and blocked shot leaders both seasons. Nwosu also finished second in the conference in field goal percentage as a senior (.615). He led the conference in blocked shots (1.8) as a junior and was selected as the conference's player of the week on three occasions during his career.
He led the squad in scoring (18.1), rebounding (8.5), block shots (1.6) and field goal percentage (.615) as a senior. Nwosu also led the team in scoring (13.7) and block shots (1.8) as a junior.
Peter Aluma #00
Peter Aluma was one of the top centers in Liberty and Big South Conference history. He was an excellent scorer and prolific shot blocker during his career with the Flames, helping them to three conference championship games and one Big South Championship title in 1994.
Aluma had his jersey retired on November 15, 1997 in front of a home crowd. Aluma finished his Big South Conference career as the top shot blocker (366), third in games played (119), second in free throws made (451) and third in scoring (1,715). He also holds the number two, three and four positions on the single-season blocked shot list. Aluma finished 13th in blocked shots and 18th in blocked shot average among career national leaders.
He was selected to the Big South Conference’s all-rookie team as a freshman and then was an all-conference performer for three years. He was selected to the all-tournament team three times, being selected most outstanding player twice. Aluma was a two-time selection to the VaSID all-state team and the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Aluma, a three-year starter during his career at Liberty holds several school records. He set the record for blocked shots in a game, season and career and finished second in free throws made and fifth in school’s history for scoring. He owns the single-season record for blocks (113) and holds the number two through four marks also. He still holds the Big South Conference career blocks record (366).
Aluma finished first on the school’s NCAA Division I scoring list, free throws made list, second in offensive and defensive rebounds, second in minutes played and third in steals. He scored double-digits 87 times, scored 20 or more points 36 times and had 13 double-doubles to his credit.
Karl Hess #11
The most prolific scorer in Liberty basketball history, Karl Hess, did so without the luxury of a three-point line, racking up a program-best 2,373 points. He was the team captain of Liberty’s 1980 NCCAA National Championship team as a senior, earning All-Tournament and MVP honors.
Liberty retired his jersey on Dec. 2, 2006. Hess finds himself atop many school record lists, including first in field goals (951) and second in field goals attempted (1,798). Hess ranks first in free throws (471), free throw percentage (89.9%), assists (648), and is tied for second in games played (120).
Hess, a four-year starter, has a list of personal achievements that include winning Liberty’s Rock Royer-Mac Rivera Award (1980), NCCAA First Team All-American (1980) and CoSIDA Academic First Team All-American (1980) college division.
A 5-11 guard from Shickshinney, Pa., Hess currently is a psychologist and resides in Lynchburg with his wife, April, and their two sons, Nate and Zack. Hess also travels extensively as a major college basketball referee, primarily officiating SEC, ACC and BIG EAST games.
Hess served as the crew chief for the 2007 NCAA Men’s National Championship game between Florida and Ohio State. The honor entailed tossing the jump ball between 2007 NBA first round draft picks, Joakim Noah (Florida) and Greg Oden (Ohio State).
Larry Blair #22
Larry Blair played 4 seasons with Liberty 2003-2007. During his career, Blair received Big South Conference all-conference honors all 4 season. In 2003, he was the Big South rookie of the year and was on the all-freshman team. Blair was on the all-tournament team in 2004 when he led the Flames to their second ever Big South tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance.
Blair holds Liberty's NCAA Division I record for most points in a career (2,211), which was the most in Big South Conference, but was passed the next year by VMI's Reggie Williams (2,556). He is one of only three players who have scored more than 2,000 points for the Flames. Blair currently plays in Finland for team Joensuun Kataja.
Seth Curry #30
Curry set many freshman records at Liberty, including freshman scoring (707), fifth in Big South history for one season, crushing Larry Blair's previous record (427). Curry also led all freshmen in the nation in scoring. Curry was named the Big South Conference Freshman of the year. Curry also holds the Big South record for minutes played in one season (1,277), seven more than fellow Flame, Anthony Smith (1,270).
Curry was named 2008-09 Big South Freshman of the Year, Basketball Times All-Freshmen Team, Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major All-American, Collegehoops.net Mid-Major All-American, Collegehoops.net All-Freshmen Team, Collegehoops.net Mid-Major All-Freshmen Team, Collegehoops.net Freshman of the Year, NABC All-District 2nd Team, 2-time Dick Vitale's "Diaper Dandy of the Week," Richmond Times-Dispatch All-State, VaSID 1st-Team All-State, VaSID Rookie of the Year,
After the 2008-2009 season, Curry decided to transfer to Duke University.
NCAA Tournament Appearances
The following is a list of Liberty's NCAA Tournament Appearances:
List of Liberty Flames Seasons
|1972–73||—||Dan Manley||13||14||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1973–74||—||Dan Manley||11||12||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1974–75||—||Dan Manley||17||11||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1975–76||—||Dan Manley||12||15||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1977–78||—||Harley 'Skeeter' Swift||7||22||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1978–79||—||Dale Gibson||15||16||—||—||—||—||NCCAA District II|
|1981–82||—||Jeff Meyer||15||11||—||—||—||—||NAIA District 19|
|1982–83||—||Jeff Meyer||23||9||—||—||—||—||NAIA National|
|1983–84||Mason-Dixon Conference||Jeff Meyer||19||10||—||—||—||—||—|
|1984–85||Mason-Dixon Conference||Jeff Meyer||19||10||—||—||—||—||—|
|1985–86||Mason-Dixon Conference||Jeff Meyer||18||13||—||—||—||—||—|
|1986–87||Mason-Dixon Conference||Jeff Meyer||18||11||—||—||—||—||—|
|1987–88||Mason-Dixon Conference||Jeff Meyer||13||15||—||—||—||—||—|
|1991–92||Big South||Jeff Meyer||22||7||10||4||Second||Semifinals||—|
|1992–93||Big South||Jeff Meyer||16||14||9||7||Fourth||Quarterfinals||—|
|1993–94||Big South||Jeff Meyer||18||12||12||6||Fourth||Champions||NCAA Tournament|
|1994–95||Big South||Jeff Meyer||12||16||7||9||Fifth||Semifinals||—|
|1995–96||Big South||Jeff Meyer||17||12||11||6||Second||Finals||—|
|1996–97||Big South||Jeff Meyer||23||9||11||3||Tied-First||Finals||—|
|1997–98||Big South||Randy Dunton||11||17||5||7||Fourth||Semifinals||—|
|1998–99||Big South||Mel Hankinson||4||23||0||10||Sixth||Quarterfinals||—|
|1999–00||Big South||Mel Hankinson||14||14||4||10||Seventh||Quarterfinals||—|
|2000–01||Big South||Mel Hankinson||13||15||5||9||Sixth||Semifinals||—|
|2001–02||Big South||Mel Hankinson||5||25||2||12||Eighth||Quarterfinals||—|
|2002–03||Big South||Randy Dunton||14||15||8||6||Second||Semifinals||—|
|2003–04||Big South||Randy Dunton||18||15||12||4||Tied-First||Champions||NCAA Tournament |
|2004–05||Big South||Randy Dunton||13||15||11||5||Second||Quarterfinals||—|
|2005–06||Big South||Randy Dunton||7||23||3||13||Seventh||Quarterfinals||—|
|2006–07||Big South||Randy Dunton||14||17||8||6||Third||Quarterfinals||—|
|2007–08||Big South||Ritchie McKay||16||16||7||7||Fourth||Semifinals||—|
|2008–09||Big South||Ritchie McKay||23||12||12||6||Third||Semifinals||CIT Quarterfinals|
|2009–10||Big South||Dale Layer||15||16||10||8||Sixth||Quarterfinals||—|
|2010–11||Big South||Dale Layer||19||13||13||5||—|
|2 Conferences||8 Head Coaches||Total
|Conf. Wins 160||Conf. Losses 145||Regular Seasons
- Although two other Division I institutions were technically founded after Florida Gulf Coast, both inherited their athletic programs from predecessor institutions that were Division I members:
- UTRGV was founded in 2013 with the merger of two other members of the University of Texas System and began full operation in 2015. However, it inherited its athletic program from one of its predecessor institutions, Texas–Pan American.
- Purdue Fort Wayne was founded in 2018 when the Indiana University and Purdue University systems dissolved their joint Fort Wayne campus, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). The IU and Purdue systems each established separate Fort Wayne campuses, with the vast majority of academic programs moving to the Purdue campus. The IPFW athletic program transferred completely to Purdue Fort Wayne.