816 North

New coach promises to bring stabilty back to Liberty girls’ basketball

Liberty sophomore Jillian Fleming, whose brother, Chad Fleming, served as the Blue Jays’ interim coach last season, will be one of three returning starters for new coach Joe Price next season.
Liberty sophomore Jillian Fleming, whose brother, Chad Fleming, served as the Blue Jays’ interim coach last season, will be one of three returning starters for new coach Joe Price next season. Special to The Star

Joe Price isn’t making any promises about wins and losses as he takes over the Liberty girls basketball program.

But he is promising one thing the Blue Jays haven’t had lately — stability.

“I’ve been in the district 15 years and longevity is definitely one of my goals,” Price said. “I hope I do a good enough job to stick around and ride this thing out.”

Price, an assistant boys’ coach at Liberty North for the past eight seasons, recently became Liberty’s third girls’ basketball coach in less than a year. He’s taking over from Chad Fleming, a former Blue Jays boys’ basketball star who was appointed as interim coach last October.

Fleming stepped in after Noah Simpson, the coach for the previous six seasons, was placed on administrative leave and later resigned following an investigation into “inappropriate electronic communications” with students, including a request for photographs from a former student.

Even with all the early-season turmoil, Liberty remained one of the top girls’ teams in the Kansas City area, going 22-9 and reaching the Class 5 semifinals for the fourth state tournament appearance in the program’s history.

Getting a chance to be a head coach for the first time and taking over a tradition-rich program were goals that Price had been pursuing for some time. Getting the chance to do both without leaving Liberty, he said, made it all the more ideal.

“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach,” Price said. “I’ve just been waiting for that right opportunity to go after. I had a good thing going and I didn’t want to leave it for just any situation.”

Price was a junior varsity boys’ coach at Liberty before joining the Liberty North boys’ staff when the school opened in 2010. In eight seasons, helped lead the Eagles to two conference titles, five district titles and Class 4 state tourney appearances in 2012 and 2013.

“Joe’s fingerprints touch every aspect of our program,” Liberty North boys’ coach Chris McCabe said. “He has been an enormous part of our success on and off the floor. The players at Liberty High have a coach who understands the game and also understands people.”

One of Price’s first tasks will be finding someone to replace 5-foot-11 forward Kayel Newland, who is off to Illinois State after averaging 15 points a game and breaking the Blue Jays’ career three-point scoring record. But with three starters expected to return from last season’s young team, Price knows the cupboard won’t be bare.

“There’s a very good core coming back,” Price said. “Obviously, that’s also very enticing. It’s great to come in as a new coach with that type of foundation already set.”

Price only got to see Liberty play a couple of times last season, so he really doesn’t have a grasp yet on what kind of talent he has. Until he does, he won’t know for sure what the Blue Jays’ approach will be on offense.

“I always want to score as easy as we can,” Price said. “So, if we’re able to push the ball and score, we will do that. If I got a team that needs to grind it out, we’ll make the adjustment and do that as well. I just need to see the girls’ skill sets to incorporate some ideas I already have.”

Price has plenty of time to do that, and he isn’t going anywhere else anytime soon. He’s just happy to stay in the same town and work in the same district where his three sons attend school.

“I’m extremely excited,” Price said. “I’m honored to have this opportunity. Obviously, I don’t want to let down anyone in that program that’s been there. I want to do the best job that I can to get the most out of whatever we got.”