Small in stature, Liberty basketball’s Darius McGhee is leaving a gigantic mark on the Flames program.
About 30 minutes before tipoff of East Carolina vs. Liberty on December 17, a pre-teen boy and his father scanned the layup lines inside the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
The boy tapped his father’s shoulder and asked, “Which one is Darius?” Promptly, the father pointed to the small-framed guard at the top of the key launching threes.
The boy, puzzled, replied, “He’s smaller than me.”
Liberty guard Darius McGhee has a reputation the size of a giant. When people first see him up close, they are often taken aback by his listed 5-9, 160-pound frame.
“At my size, you have to play with a different type of energy, a different type of aggression,” McGhee told Heat Check CBB.
McGee’s 21.4 points per game rank sixth in D-I basketball. None of the other players in the top six are listed under 6-1.
The size of success
McGhee is the reigning ASUN Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that the career 37.4-percent 3-point shooter also led the conference in total points scored last season as well.
McGhee has gone overlooked his entire life — not by his opponents, to be clear — by coaches and scouts alike. When he committed to Liberty, McGhee claimed four other offers from Longwood, George Mason, High Point and Campbell. It was a perplexing notion because his region was experiencing Chris Clemons’ prolific collegiate career during McGhee’s recruitment. The pair carried the same questions coming out of high school before breakout D-1 careers.
“I think all of us have a chip; you cannot play at this level without a chip,” McGhee said. “Especially at my size, you have to play with a chip. My strength coach and I had this conversation the other day; we are about the same size. We didn’t realize we were small until someone told us.”
McGhee graduated from St. George (Va.) Blue Ridge School, where he spent his final two seasons of high school. He played his first three years of varsity basketball at Roxboro (N.C.) Community School.
At Roxboro Community, McGhee played in 73 games during his three seasons. He totaled 2,095 points and was 300-of-628 (47.7 percent) from three. McGhee’s name still lives in N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) record books, tied for 31st all-time in points scored. His 2015-16 season was the only in NCHSAA history where a player scored over 1,000 points in a single season.
In McGhee’s two seasons at Blue Ridge, he was surrounded by significantly more talent. McGhee’s teams won a state championship and finished 51-13 overall, playing alongside seven D-I players.
“McGhee was by far the best player in this game,” East Carolina head coach Joe Dooley told Heat Check CBB after falling 74-64 to Liberty. “He’s intriguing because where you have to guard him is different from where you have to guard most college players.”
The perfect fit
This season is Ritchie McKay’s 20th as a D-I head coach. In eight years with Liberty, McKay’s Flames are 177-93 overall with three ASUN conference tournament titles.
“His career will be long,” McKay said. “His legacy will last long at Liberty.”
McGhee came into Liberty with no stars by his name. Now, he is the school’s first ASUN Player of the Year and all-time leading 3-point shooter and lands in Liberty’s career top 10 in points, defensive rebounds, and player efficiency ratings.
“He is a special kid,” McKay said. “Not many are like him. I have done this for 32 years now, everyone talks about his great ability, and he has that. But his humility is rare; there is not an autograph he won’t sign or people he won’t serve.”
Where do we go from here?
The game has always come naturally to McGhee, most notably in the form of his reported 48-inch vertical leap and the quick-as-a-hiccup release from anywhere inside 30 feet. But it’s his swagger and confidence that have always stood out.
Like every child who grows up playing basketball in America, it’s McGhee’s dream to play in the NBA one day. It won’t be an easy road to make an NBA roster, though. However, nothing has been easy for McGhee to this point, but he has always believed he was the best player on every floor he graced.
As the game ended and McGhee’s 27 points spearheaded a come-from-behind victory, the little boy walked up the aisle and through the doors with a smile on his face. It was the smile of a kid who had just found a new favorite player.
Header image courtesy of Liberty Athletics.