In a year where the odds did not favor UB Women’s Basketball at all, somehow the Bulls still got it done. They’re now the defending MAC Champs and bring back a roster loaded with talent from last year’s squad. They’re also inserting some key freshmen into the puzzle and the future looks bright.
But, step into a practice and you’ll see the tension that a bright future brings. Coach Jack is still the rambunctious and sagacious coach that knows that a second ring isn’t in the bag. I’m still frightened when I see this side of her, but I also feel filled with energy to see a coach with this much passion for the game. All that’s changed from a year prior is a championship ring, and that’s a good sight to see.
I had the chance to catch up with head coach Felisha Legette-Jack for the first time since the women made their trip to Columbus last March to be routed by #3 seed Ohio State. The preseason storyline: All of the returning players on this team have improved in their own regard and are ready to earn a second MAC Championship. Below you can find some of the things I asked Coach Jack about the upcoming season:
Heading into a new season, what’s your general outlook?
I'm not a predictor of the future I simply know the energy our team brings. I love the intensity on the defensive side. We’ve got to get everyone to shoot the ball better and that's an ongoing thing for us.
We’ll start with the good news. Cassie Oursler’s Season of Competition appeal was just accepted. How does it feel to have the Grand Island native back for another year?
I like her upside. She's a kid who hasn't played a lot of basketball. The longer she plays the more she's going to learn and the better she's going to get. [With two more years] under our tutelage I think she can honestly take her game to the professional level.
In the past she’s shown a problem with creating a lot of hacking fouls. Has she improved in that regard?
She's getting better. What's really great for her is she's learning how to move laterally and she's learning to trust the fact that 'you know what, I'm late. She got me and I need to let this one go’. She has to know when to win fouls and she's gotten a lot better at that.
This year you bring in a lot of solid freshmen into the program. Starting with Summer Hemphill, what does she bring to the table?
I love her athleticism. She's a kid that we feel that we can press with a little bit. I think we can put her in some different places in stretch the floor up a little more. She can attack the basket, shoot the three, and she likes to play defense. She can really time blocks and give us a lot of opportunities defensively. I think she's going to see a lot of time for us this year.
She averaged three steals per game in her senior year of high school, do you think she’ll be able to cause some havoc in transition?
That's our goal and that's why we brought her here. I really think she can be the point of our press.
Although she missed her entire senior season, Lawrencia Moten has been regarded a a strong late get for the program. What have you seen from her?
She runs the floor okay, but once she gets down there she's a smart player. She knows how to block shots and she knows how to finish around the basket. Right now we're just working on getting her stronger and helping her understand how to play the system that we're in. Not only did she not play her senior year, but she played for three different coaches in high school. She has to trust us a little bit and let us teach her through that learning how to trust situation.
Do you think she’ll adapt better because she’s been in the situation of having to learn new systems?
I hope so but we don't need to necessarily hurry up with it because we got Cassie, Mariah, Brittany, and Summer. There's no timeframe and we're going to be consistent at teaching her.
Next you have Theresa Onwuka, a guard that brings a high scoring capability. What do you like about her?
Tessy is a driver and a slasher. She's razor sharp in the lane and she's developing a three point shot. I'm loving that she's developing that. She's a lefty and she can defend really well. It's going to take a lot for you to get around this kid. She's a 5-10 kid, but with a 6-1 wingspan so our matchups are going to be a lot better.
You have another newcomer in Cierra Dillard. How does it feel to be able to rope in the best player from last year’s UMass squad?
One thing is I recruited Cierra two years prior coming out of high school. Buffalo was just Buffalo then but now we've made it a viable option. She was ready to come home and we had an open opportunity and it's an honor and a privilege to coach all of these kids and it's really neat for somebody like her to join what we're trying to create here. I think she's going to be a major help [when she can play]. Right now I just think that we don't put anyone above anyone else. Just because she was the second-leading scorer in the Atlantic-10 doesn't put her above people like Jo. I just look at kids as if they need what I have to offer. She has a need for what we offer and we have a need for her too.
You only have one player out of four that came in four years ago to play for you and that’s Joanna Smith. That definitely has to feel special that she stuck with you. What do you think she can accomplish this season and does she plan on playing pro?
Joanna plans on playing pro. She would love to play overseas and continue on with her dream of basketball. We tell these kids all the time: there's no ceiling in your education, as a basketball player, or whatever you choose to do. What I love about Jo is that you could come into the gym at anytime day or night and you'll probably find her. She is a person who earned the right to be one of the best players in the conference and my hope is that the world sees her enough to realize that she's a player that can represent our country or play in the WNBA.
We saw a lot of impressive things from Gabi Bade late last season, especially when Stephanie Reid had to sit for a second technical foul in the MAC Semi-Finals. We know Steph is definitely the starting point guard, so what is Gabi’s role going to be this season?
Gabi's going to be a swing player for us. She's going to run the point sometimes, we'll put her at the two, and we might even put her at the three and play some small ball. We just need to get her defense a little more polished. Offensively she's a great passer and scorer. She can get to the free throw line and hit free throws. If we can lock into that defensive side of the ball, I don't mind playing small ball at all. I think she's going to find more time on the court this year. She's done the work.
Who do you think has improved the most since last season?
They've all improved in their own right. Jo's improved on her on-the-ball attack. Gabi's getting a mid-range shot. Ayoleka's defense is getting better. Brittany's stretching her offensive shot to the free throw line and Cassie's developing a three point shot for us as well. Everybody came back with different growths. Liisa's going to play a lot more for us this year. I'm hoping to utilize her size and I think she can be an asset to us.
It’s been 5 years since you took the reigns of this program, how satisfied are you with your progress at Buffalo?
I'm happy but never satisfied. You never know when that time comes where you have to move on or you're forced to move on. My hope is I do enough work where if I'm not here after another day or a year that our legacy will be that we kept improving and kept getting better. Every time I think about us not having a national championship here, there's always work to be done.
To end things off on a light note, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a coach?
Trust your journey. The journey is different every year and as a younger coach there was always one way. I was a micromanager kind of coach and I didn't have a lot of trust in my staff. Since I've been with this group, I trust my staff and I trust my journey. I know that if we do the work, whatever is supposed to be, will be. I go into every day trusting that I'll get the most out of that day
Thanks to Coach Jack and expect an interview with Nate Oats soon.