Ritchie McKay learned a valuable lesson about recruiting during his six seasons as an assistant at Virginia: Don’t focus on the stars the recruiting services give players. Instead, value the prospects’ character and how they will fit within the structure of the program.

It is a model McKay has followed during his time back with the Liberty men’s basketball program. The Flames' success in recent seasons has attracted higher-quality players to Lynchburg, and the recruiting services are taking note.

Liberty announced three signees Wednesday during the opening day of the early signing period that are part of the highest-rated class, according to Rivals, in program history.

“I love the class that we’re able to attract in this year’s signees,” McKay said Wednesday. “I’ve loved the last few classes. They’ve all had a critical role in the growth of our program.”

The Flames’ signing class currently is tied for 66th in Rivals' national rankings.

The early signing period began Wednesday and concludes Nov. 20. The Flames have one more scholarship available for the signing class.

Liberty’s recruiting class of 2020 currently is highlighted by three-star point guard Drake Dobbs from Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota, who is on pace to reach the 2,000-point plateau before graduating. He had offers from Colorado State, North Dakota State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“When I watched him this summer, I’m sitting there and [thinking] we’ve got a really good one,” McKay said.

The class also includes two-star forward Michaiah Abii, a forward from Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, who chose Liberty over offers from the likes of Air Force, Columbia, Drexel, Lipscomb, Northeastern and South Alabama, and Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of former ACC player of the year Justin Jackson.

The younger Jackson only received an offer from Liberty, though North Carolina, Kansas and Virginia all showed interest in the 6-foot-4 guard, according to his high school coach. 

“He raises the bar for everyone he is around and I know he will continue to do this at Liberty,” said Dwight Williams, who coached Jackson for one season at Blue Valley High School in Overland Park, Kansas. “There is no doubt he will make Liberty University very proud with his leadership, character, loyalty, work ethic and humility.”

Jackson and Abii both verbally committed after the Flames won the ASUN Conference tournament title and then defeated Mississippi State for the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory.

“I think it’s given us a little bit more name recognition. I think our brand is a little bit more developed. I feel like the competition for guys is a lot stiffer,” McKay said. “ … We’ve had to recruit against more people that are our level and above, so yes, I think the success, or the semblance of success, that we’ve had has helped, but we’re in a different pool searching for those players.”

Other signing classes around Liberty

The women’s basketball team signed 6-foot-5 forward Bella Smuda out of Downingtown East High School in Exton, Pennsylvania. She is rated the No. 13 post in the Class of 2020, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz recruiting rankings prepared by Dan Olson of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. … Jefferson Forest High School product Sophia Palladino was one of nine women’s soccer players to sign Wednesday. Palladino, The News & Advance’s girls soccer player of the year, is enrolling at Liberty in January.

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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