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 founded in 1991). The Flames finished 13–14 in the inaugural season. As of the 2009–2010 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, 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 reached post-season 3 times in its NCAA Division I history. The Flames fell to UNC (71–51) in the first round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament after winning the Big South tournament. Liberty lost to St. 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. Liberty won the 1980 NCCAA National Championship against Point Loma College (68–65), surviving a double-overtime thriller 64-62 against The King's College (NY) Purple Knights in the Eastern Regional final, in front of a stand-room-only home crowd of 7,500 in Lynchburg.
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 Flames entered the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Mike Goad became Liberty's first basketball All-American.
Harley "Skeeter" Swift was named Liberty's second men's basketball coach. Mark Chafin was the second Liberty player to be named NCCAA All-American.
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.
On March 25, 1981, Jeff Meyer was named 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. On April 1, 2009 he was hired by the University of Virginia to be the head assistant coach of men's basketball to his friend and mentor Tony Bennett. On April 1, 2015, McKay was rehired as the Liberty basketball after spending time at the University of Virginia as the head assistant coach of men's basketball to his friend and mentor Tony Bennett.
2 Seasons (2007-2009)
1 Season (2015–Present)
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. Layer led the 2012-13 team to a Big South championship and NCAA berth with a 15-20 record, 6-10 in the conference. Layer was fired after the 2014-2015 season after Liberty finished just 8-24 on the season.
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 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 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.
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 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.
Anthony Smith a four-year starter with liberty from 2004-2008. Smith, was a fall 2008 collegeInsider.com Mid-Major All-American honorable mention where he averaged 17.6 points and pulled down a career best 6.5 rebounds a game. Smith concluded his prominent Liberty career ranked No. 9 all-time in the Big South Conference in scoring, while finishing No. 6 in the Liberty annals. Smith's 1754 career points rank second only to Larry Blair (2,211) in Liberty's Division I era. Smith, was the 2008-09 Big South Player of the year and secured first-team honors on the Big South all-conference and NABC all-district teams. As a junior, Smith was the only player in the nation during the 2008 season to attempt at least 200 three-point field goals and succeed on at least 40 percent of his three-point field goal attempts (41.0), while also hitting over 50 percent of his field goal attempts (51.5). Only four other layers in the nation accomplish the same feat while attempting at least 100 three point field goals, including Mario Charmers (Kansas), Lee Cummard (BYU), Malik Hairston (Oregon) and James Harden (Arizona State). Smith played on the 2009 summer league team of the Indiana Pacers. He has played professionally in Spain and Germany. He is currently playing in France (Poitiers).
Seth Curry is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the son of former Virginia Tech and NBA star Dell Curry. His older brother, Stephen Curry, is a point guard for the Golden State Warriors.
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.
The Sugar Land, Texas native played all but 5 games in his 4-year career with the Liberty Flames. Jesse Sanders became the first player in Division I history to record a triple-double in each of his four collegiate seasons. During his senior season, Sanders average 8 assists per game which was the third best average in the country. In addition, his 2.9 assist to turnover ratio placed him 9th in the country.
Sanders was named the Big South Conference Player of the Year during his Junior campaign as well as received First Team All-Big South honors, Associated Press All-America honorable mention and earned Mid-Major All-America honorable mention from Collegehoops.net. He was named to the Big South All-Freshman Team after the 08-09 season.
The Flames have appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times. Their combined record is 0–3.
The Flames have appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) one time. Their record is 2–1. They will appear again in the CIT it 2017.
The Flames have appeared in the NAIA Tournament one time. Their record is 2–1.