UB women's basketball team features four Australian players
Ups twins, Reid and Wilkins highlight Australian freshmen class
When Cherie Cordoba was “bouncing around, traveling from Europe to Australia, to Europe, back to Australia” after her playing days at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she established connections with players and coaches from around the world.
And the first-year assistant coach for the women’s basketball team used those connections to bring talent to Buffalo from more than 10,000 miles away.
In her first season with Buffalo, Cordoba has been active in recruiting talent from her native Australia to join the Bulls. The Bulls feature four Australian freshmen this season, including Stephanie Reid, Courtney Wilkins and twin sisters Liisa and Katherine Ups. And while the Bulls are aiming to improve their team with international talent, the players are gaining an experience they were uncertain they’d have.
“The opportunity for any foreign kid to come to America is special to them. Most of them want to do it,” Cordoba said. “As long as I’m here and we need talent, I will continue to sell the university as a perfect place for them to come and not only continue their basketball careers, but their education as well.”
Cordoba and head coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s relationship goes back to when the duo coached together at Hofstra and Indiana University. The two teamed up again at UB.
One of Cordoba’s first moves as assistant coach was finding the Ups twins.
“For starters, I got the twins to join UB,” Cordoba said. “I thought they were perfect fits for the program. Both have good size for wing players, could play the two or the three and they came into the program as hard-nosed players with the want to improve.”
Liisa said she would never forget what it was like to travel on a plane for the first time with her sister.
“It was surreal,” Liisa said. “It was really exciting because I [had] never got on a plane before. It didn’t hit me until I stepped off the plane and arrived in Buffalo.”
While taken aback by the moment, Liisa and her sister, Katherine, were excited to live their dream of going to college.
“It was really crazy,” Katherine said. “Ever since we were young, we always wanted to go to college. When it was official, we were just counting down the days.”
The Ups admit it took a while to adjust to the American style of basketball.
They said the Australian game is more physical than the American style, where they said offensive fouls are called more often. The twins were used to setting hard screens and engaging in contact, rather than showing off their dribbling and ball-handling skills.
“Some of my teammates have crazy dribbling skills. I, at least, never needed those when I played at home,” Katherine said.
But Cordoba still wanted the twins for Buffalo.
As freshmen, both twins have seen little playing time. Liisa has appeared in 25 games with one start. Katherine has played in 17 games, averaging 6.6 minutes per game. But both said they are using the season to learn and adjust to basketball in the United States.
Because Australia’s summer school period is during Buffalo’s winter period, players are able to come to the United States after they end high school to play for the team.
This is how Wilkins and Reid were able to play for UB, as the two joined the team in the middle of the season.
Due to an undisclosed injury, Wilkins will not play this season, but Cordoba said she’s perfect for the game when she hits the floor. She said Buffalo’s biggest need was a shooter, and the team got it in Wilkins.
“When I was recruiting [Wilkins], she appeared as this tall, lanky shooter,” Cordoba said. “Knowing that we needed some size in the next class as well, she was perfect for us.”
Wilkins was excited to join the Bulls, mainly because she didn’t know what she would do after finishing high school.
“I was very excited when I got recruited to come here,” Wilkins said. “I never thought I would go to college. When I got the call, it still didn’t hit me. It didn’t hit me until I landed here in Buffalo and met the coaches and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this actually happened.’”
Like Katherine and Liisa, Wilkins had to deal with an adjustment on the court. She was moved from a traditional position to a versatile forward, expanding her game to the outside.
“There were some huge differences in the Australian game and the American game for me,” Wilkins said. “When I played at home, I usually played more center. I believe that I’m more of a [power forward] because of my shooting ability and I could play some [small forward].
Although she is not playing this season, Wilkins said she will leave Buffalo a better player.
“There’s just more skilled players here,” Wilkins said. “Also, there’s more organization compared to Australia here. We run more, our game is more open and up-tempo, but there’s more structure here. We run plays and get great coaching and should help me improve over the next four seasons.”
The final Australian Cordoba recruited was freshman point guard Stephanie Reid. With the Bulls lacking depth at the point guard position, Cordoba saw Reid as a potential solution.
“Knowing that we needed a point guard, I went after Stephanie hard,” Cordoba said. “I remember watching her play, she was very heady. She isn’t the most athletic player, but she knew how to pick her spots on both sides of the ball.”
As the point guard carousel played out early in the season, Reid was still in Australia waiting to join the roster. Reid made her Bulls debut on Jan. 10 against Miami Ohio, scoring three points and dished out one assist in five minutes of action.
She made her first start on Jan. 17 against Ball State and has yet to give up the starting point guard duties since. In the first 12 games of her career, Reid has averaged 5.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Legette-Jack praised her for “her ability to run an offense.”
With her success on the court, it seems Reid’s biggest adjustment has been off court: Buffalo’s cold weather. She said the weather in Australia was 100 degrees, and when she arrived, it was close to zero.
Reid came over as a late addition to the team, but it was her excitement to meet the coaches that made the journey surreal.
“I was ecstatic,” Reid said. “I was so excited to meet the coaches when I first landed. Doing FaceTime was fine, but meeting people that you’ve been talking to for six months to a year, that was the most exciting part of the trip for me.”
Before joining UB, Wilkins and Reid played together in Australia and remained close friends even before recruitment. While playing together, Reid didn’t think they would end up at the same school. They were both surprised when Buffalo recruited both of them.
“[Wilkins] is an amazing player,” Reid said. “It was something that we always wanted to achieve together. We always wanted to go to college together and play together. We didn’t think it was going to happen, and now that we’re both here at University, we’re enjoying reaching our goals together.”
Although only Reid has seen significant playing time this season, the Australian freshmen may play a large part in Buffalo’s future if Cordoba’s plan comes to fruition.
Quentin Haynes is the sports desk editor. You can reach him at email@example.com