Buchholz grad in limelight

Liberty coach Dale Layer yells instructions to his team during a game against Charleston Southern in the championship at the Big South Conference tournament March 10 in Conway, S.C. (AP photo)

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:53 p.m.

When the NCAA Tournament starts next week, one of the most amazing stories involves how Liberty University made it into the field despite losing 20 games this season.

It all started — this road to March Madness — on the outdoor courts of Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville.

It was there that Dale Layer worked on his game.

“We had some great games on those courts,” he said.

Fast forward to today, and Layer is the head coach at Liberty. And he’s about to coach in March Madness.

“It’s been crazy,” he said. “It has been great, but crazy.”

Liberty defied the odds by winning the Big South Conference Tournament last Sunday. Layer has worked his way through the coaching rankings with jobs at Eckerd, Eastern Kentucky, Queens, Colorado State and Marquette.

But before he became a coach, he was a player. His Buchholz High School career went from 1972-76 where one of his teammates was current Gainesville resident Roger Maris, Jr.

“He was a coach on the court,” Maris said. “He knew where he was supposed to be and where we were supposed to be. And nobody could press us because he’d beat it every time.

“Dale had really quick hands. I learned a lot from him about how to steal the ball. And he was really a student of the game.”

Layer recruited Maris to Eckerd when Layer was an assistant coach there. When Layer was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, Maris was his presenter.

Layer’s family moved to Gainesville from Daytona Beach before his ninth-grade season, and he had little trouble adjusting to Gainesville.

“I loved it there,” Layer said. “Great college town. I still get back there when I’m recruiting and I know a lot of the high school coaches.

“It was a great time for me. I wouldn’t change it if I could.”

Layer’s father was a high school coach in New Smyrna Beach, but the coaching bug didn’t bite him until he was out of school.

“I was just trying to graduate from high school and then college,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about that. But I guess it was in my background and in my blood.”

Layer said he lived across the street from Westside Park, which offered him several outdoor courts to play.

“He would be on that court at Littlewood from sunrise to sundown,” Maris said.

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