Article by Jon Manson
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Keenan Gumbs was a DIII All-American last year at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. He was coming off a season where he was named conference player of the year and tournament MVP after averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. He led Schreiner to its first ever conference title and advanced to the NCAA DIII Tournament.
During his junior campaign, Gumbs averaged 13.6 field goal attempts on the season and had a career-high 46 point performance. If he returned for his senior season, it would have been more of the same, but he put all those accolades away to chase his dream of being a Division I player for a championship contender.
"He's got all the things that we're looking for," McKay said when Gumbs committed to Liberty last April. "Grad transfers on the whole are a little bit of a risk especially if you have a healthy culture, which I think we do. If I'm looking up what we need – athleticism, toughness, passion, humility, scoring ability, and a defensive ability – he checks all the boxes. I'm elated that we were able to attract him to our family."
Gumbs is just the 3rd graduate transfer Coach McKay has brought into his program during his 6 seasons as head coach, joining point guards Anthony Fields and Ray Chen. Fields joined the team in McKay's first season back at Liberty in 2015-16, as the transfer from Wake Forest simply gave the Flames an extra body. Fields was one of just 9 scholarship players that season for Liberty. Ray Chen joined the program the following year transferring in from Division II Belmont Abbey, again just providing depth for McKay as he began the building process.
"Ray Chen, Anthony Fields were back there (when) we really needed bodies and good people," McKay said, recalling his previous graduate transfers. "They were phenomenal at filling that void, and they helped us going from there to here. Now that we're here, Keenan Gumbs has had a major impact on advancing us to where we want to go on a consistent basis. (In Gumbs) we got a better player that was more capable of effecting the outcome of a game in his size, in his strength, in his toughness, in his success as a Division III player. No disrespect to Ant or Ray, those dudes were great men. The first part of this was culture-building. I shouldn't say we're not doing that anymore because you're always building culture, but we're in that process of continuing to build players to try and do something grand on the national stage."
Gumbs says making the transition to a new program was flawless.
"The team did a great job welcoming me in as their own, especially being a one year player," he said. "They welcomed me with open arms."
Gumbs immediately made an impact on the team, starting the first 11 games and 12 of the first 13 and reaching the double figure scoring mark in 6 of the first 13 games including a team-high 14 against Alabama State on December 21st. McKay then inserted Caleb Homesley, who was rounding back into form from his two serious ACL injuries, into the starting lineup alongside Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, Lovell Cabbil, Elijah Cuffee, and Scottie James. Liberty has won 13 out of 15 games that group has started.
Since coming off the bench, Gumbs' scoring has dipped slightly as he's reached double figures just twice in the last 16 games, but his impact has still been great, as easily evidenced in Liberty's game at North Florida Saturday when Gumbs scored 14 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in just 15 minutes. His energy off the bench has been infectious, countless times providing huge boosts to the Flames.
"The way he handled going from a starter to a non-starter was directly correlated to our team and our ability to think about others before ourselves," McKay said of the 6'5″ Gumbs. "It's hard to put someone else's needs before your own, and Keenan's done it. He's done it with a great attitude. He's done it with a great sense of maturity. His role, though it's changed slightly, is still meaningful."
On the season, Gumbs is averaging 6.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 17.2 minutes while shooting 46.4% ffrom the field and 30.6% from 3. He's attempted 237 fewer field goals, in the same amount of games, as he did as a DIII All-American last year.
"Coach puts me in to provide energy for the team," Gumbs said. "I know that's my role. I come in, play as hard as I can, and make whatever plays are possible wherever I'm needed – offense or defense. Coach gives me an opportunity to do many things – offensively, defensively, guard 1-5. Whatever Coach wants me to do I'm here to do it, and I just go out there and give my all."
Gumbs will be one of three seniors honored for senior night on Tuesday when Liberty (23-6, 12-2) hosts Kennesaw State (5-24, 2-12). Lovell Cabbil and Zach Farquhar will also be recognized prior to the game, scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip and immediately following the 5 p.m. women's game.
"Hard to say his name and not have me smile," McKay said of Gumbs. "He's fabulous. What an incredible young man. He's willing to do whatever it takes for the team to have success, he's on time, he is a leader extraordinaire, and he's a really good basketball player. We're going to miss him. He has a defensive versatility that not many in our program possesses. We will miss him."