Seven months prior to the 2015-16 basketball seasons, Bulls fans were ecstatic. The legendary Bobby Hurley took Buffalo to their first NCAA tournament after winning the MAC in dramatic fashion. Felisha Legette-Jack also took the women's team to their first WNIT, the second postseason berth of any kind for the program. Buffalo Basketball was on the rise and it looked like each team had a really good year ahead of them.
The Falling Out
All of the happiness and dreams of the following year were quickly shattered. Bobby Hurley would not coach for Buffalo next season, hired away to Arizona State. He would take Shannon Evans, UB's second best scoring option with him to the desert as well. Another player transferred out and two recruits de-committed from the program.
The women's side also saw significant turnover. Veteran leadership in Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas graduated and further upperclassmen left the roster as well. Junior Mackenzie Loesing's basketball career would end abruptly. The Cincinnati native had a chronic injury to her ankle and it was no longer worth it to continue playing basketball. Alexus Malone transferred out of Buffalo to Louisiana Tech. Rachael Gregory had already left the program midseason.
After a week of vacancy at the men's head coaching position, Athletic Director Danny White felt that continuity was in the best interest for the team. Nate Oats, Hurley's top assistant and recruiting coordinator was quickly introduced as the 13th head men's basketball coach in Buffalo's history.
Reloading the Rosters
Oats quickly went on the recruiting trail. In late April, he picked up Forward David Kadiri from the JUCO ranks. On May 7th, the Bulls signed Odessa College's Willie Conner. Six days later, incoming Freshman CJ Massinburg and JUCO player Blake Hamilton inked their respective national letters of intent. Thanks to the coaching additions of Jim Whitesell (who recruited Massinburg) and Bryan Hodgson (who recruited the JUCO players), Oats had a full roster again.
Coach Jack had a different path in filling out this year's team. Two freshmen were already committed and signed to Buffalo. California's Gabi Bade and Cleveland's Brittany Morrison signed at the same time as the second Aussie duo of Stephanie Reid and Courtney Wilkins, who had already made the trip from Melbourne to Western New York and began making contributions in the second half of the 2014-15 season.
Instead of going on the junior college route as Oats did, Legette-Jack continued to look worldwide. Her staff would soon ink Mirte Scheper, a 6'4" center from Netherlands and Tamara Brcina from Bosnia-Herzegovina. To round out the recruiting class, Windsor, Ontario's Ayoleka Sodade committed in late June. These three additions would mean that the majority of players for the 2015-16 season would be from overseas.
Later, the offseason became even more tumultuous. Justin Moss, the defending Men's MAC Player of the Year, was expelled from the University. Moss, fellow senior center Raheem Johnson, and Mory Diane were involved in an a theft while working on campus. Since it was the second offense for Moss, he was dismissed from the university. Nate Oats now had an even tougher challenge in his debut season.
Photos of each team's recruits. Courtesy of UB Athletics
Let The (Exhibition) Games Begin
As football season started to get messy, basketball season drew our attention away. Bulls fans got their first look at each team with Bulls Madness. In the three point contest, Jarryn Skeete would edge out Nikola Rakicevic in double overtime by winning a game of rock-paper-scissors. Skeete would face and beat freshman Gabi Bade in the finals as she won against fellow three point ace Joanna Smith in the earlier round.
JUCO transfer David Kadiri would ultimately win the dunk contest after dunking over fellow transfer player Blake Hamilton. The men also held an open practice the next day. For a first look, it was tantalizing, but didn't prove all that predictive as the season went on.
The men began the year with an exhibition matchup against Daemen. Freshman CJ Massinburg's 25 points led the way, but many called it a fluke since it was against Division II competition, while Nick Perkins, another freshman, also landed 12 points that night. Looking back to the instant reactions that night, many are probably surprised that these two freshmen would continue to make such an impact throughout the season.
The women scheduled two exhibition games this year. In matchups against Clarion and Daemen, the ladies had no trouble claiming a pair of victories. Both games saw successes from the trio of Joanna Smith, Gabi Bade, and Katherine Ups. Freshman Brittany Morrison also showed promise against Clarion with 17 points. Ups and Morrison would both go into a slump mid-season in the stat column but little did we all know what was in store for them late in the year.
It was time for the real season to begin. Despite winning exhibitions with ease, each team was still met with low expectations from the fanbase. It was hard to believe that either could win more than 15 games on the year. Oats had a new-look team who had never played with each other. This bunch would need to learn everything and create team chemistry on the fly. Legette-Jack, meanwhile, had to work with one of the youngest squads in the country, almost entirely inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.