Deep Liberty squad hopes to silence doubters

The Liberty may not be the most intimidating team this year, but boss Chad Williams is adamant his team won’t be outdone.

“We won’t have any superstars this year, but we’re going to be deeper than we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Williams said. “I need them to open wide, get up on the people to try to force turnovers. We’re not going to win any rebounding battles this year.”

Limited defensively in the past due to the depth he could play at the college level, the Raiders will use their depth as a weapon this season.

“We kept 23 this year and we think nine of those kids will see big minutes this year. I can rotate them all and really not miss a beat because they’re all so alike in everything they do,” Williams said. “The days when we couldn’t apply the ball pressure that I would have liked are gone because we could only go six or seven deep. Now we’re on the other side of that.”

Liberty’s graduation losses are significant in AJ Williams and Adam Drennen. Williams now plays at WVU Tech and Drennen was a Class AA second-team all-state selection.

The two former standouts also took most of the team’s height with them.

“I only have two kids over 6-foot and they’re 6-foot-1,” Williams said. “I’m used to having AJ and Adam Drennen with all that height.”

The good news for the Raiders is that there is another Williams in the fold. Coach Williams hopes his nephew, Ethan Williams, can build on a strong sophomore season last year.

“He’s shown tremendous growth since last year in terms of his ability to control the offense and control things,” Williams said. “Everything will go through him and he won’t be bothered by ball pressure like he did last year.”

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One place where Ethan Williams never seemed to bother was the big moments when his team needed a crucial score.

“Well, we’ve always said that’s the Williams in him. I don’t think a Williams ever found a shot that he didn’t like,” Williams said, laughing. “That’s the practical joke, but he’s taken on that role even more this year. He is forcing the other kids to step up and he is leading by example.”

Liberty will bring back two additional players who started last year and will feature both heavily this year.

“Zach Bowman is a senior and he’s going to have to step up and play a big role for us,” Williams said. “We also have Resean Simms, who will be one of the greats.”

Jalen Cook is the brother of Liberty’s big standout man, Levi Cook. Young Cook isn’t the same size as his brother, but he’s a solid player in his own right.

“Jalen is back after a knee injury last year. He’s a senior and his basketball IQ is what really helps him,” Williams said. “He’s athletic for his size and he’s been in the game a long time. He is like a sponge and picks up everything fast. He should help us a lot this year.”

Tyler Cantley was the sixth man for the Raiders last year and Williams says he will take on a starting role this season.

“Tyler always had great games for us as far as bringing the intensity,” Williams said. “He will help with leadership.”

From there, Williams will move on to three sophomores who will see big minutes.

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“We have some really good young players,” Williams said. “Chris Bowman, Riley Martin and Jaden Acord have really improved from last year.”

The main strengths Williams sees for his team this year will be balanced scoring and his commitment to defense.

“We’ll be more balanced on scoring this year, which will be a huge advantage,” Williams said. “Ethan is obviously our shooter, but we have other kids who can shoot. I think I have seven children who can give us 12 to 14 points on any given night. We have good combinations of kids who can shoot and kids who can get to the basket.”

“They’ve also accepted the fact that they’re going to have to play very good defense this year,” Williams continued. “They’ve really worked hard in the preseason and put a lot of emphasis on their defense.”

While Liberty can’t intimidate anyone by walking across the ground, she’s no stranger to skeptics. The Raiders use that as fuel for the fire at Glen Daniel.

“I think Liberty has had that reputation as a team that you just look past us for the next game,” Williams said. “I take it personally and we like to take it as a challenge. We want teams to pay to do that.”

Liberty opens the season on the road in Van on December 9 before traveling to county rival Independence on December 13.

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