UB women's basketball looks to create 'village'
Head coach Legette-Jack looks to create community of support to help team
When Felisha Legette-Jack was growing up in inner-city Syracuse, it took more than her mother to help raise Legette-Jack and her four siblings.
“We needed other people in the community that could help make certain we stay on the straight and narrow,” Legette-Jack said. “We called that ‘the village.’”
Now she wants to use that mentality to help raise her Buffalo women’s basketball program.
Legette-Jack has built up Buffalo up over the last three years – culminating in the program’s first Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) invite last season. But Legette-Jack starts her fourth season at UB on Saturday with the youngest squad she’s ever coached. Actually, Buffalo may just be the youngest squad in the country – Legette-Jack says if the Bulls are not one of the top-20 youngest teams, then they’re 21st. So they’ll need all the support they can get this season.
“I’m asking this community to help grow our program,” Legette-Jack said. “To help support these young women as they go out and try to fulfill their dream of bringing great notoriety to this university and to this community.”
Buffalo has just three upperclassmen – 12 of its 15 players are freshmen or sophomores. And that inexperience was on display in practice Wednesday, as Legette-Jack made her team do an extra lap and told them they came out with a "bad attitude" and needed to "get humility."
“Our freshmen are getting tight. They’re saying, ‘Oh my goodness the season,’ and every shot is the end of their world,” Legette-Jack explained afterward. “They got to play free. They got to have fun … They were so ‘freshmen,’ if you will. And we’re just trying to get them to understand we’re better than that.”
Buffalo’s roster was decimated by departures this offseason between the graduation of Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas, the transfer of Alexus Malone to Louisiana Tech and the early retirement of Mackenzie Loesing due to an ankle injury.
Those four players alone accounted for 68 percent of the Bulls’ scoring last season.
“Losing the big scorers last year, that was huge for us,” said sophomore guard Stephanie Reid, “but it gives everyone else a chance to step up. If it means people have to go to the gym late at night to get extra reps, they do it … We may not have the same scorers, but we have new scorers and they’re stepping up.”
Buffalo will most likely turn to Reid her backcourt mate, junior guard Joanna Smith, to lead the way on offense. Reid is Buffalo’s unquestioned No. 1 point guard after joining the team midway through last semester, while Smith will take on more of a scoring role after averaging 15 points a game during the Bulls’ final six games last year.
Reid has embraced her role as a point guard. She knows if she doesn’t tell her teammates what to do, everyone will start scrambling.
“I’m the head of the body – figuratively,” Reid said. “I think with the freshmen, they have a lot of respect for me as a point guard, which is good because when I tell them to go somewhere they go.”
Buffalo’s frontcourt is more of a question mark.
Buffalo has several young forwards like freshman Mirte Scheper and sophomores Courtney Wilkins and Mariah Suchan that will try to replace Baccas, the reigning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and Sharkey, who will be an assistant coach this season.
But the player who Legette-Jack said would be Buffalo’s starting center currently can’t play because her former school won’t release her.
Sophomore center Cassie Oursler transferred to UB from Robert Morris last winter break. But Robert Morris has refused to release Oursler, despite the NCAA clearing her, Legette-Jack said.
“It’s unfortunate Cassie has been put in this position by her institution she came from,” Legette-Jack said. “She has been doing nothing but doing the right thing.”
Robert Morris head coach Sal Buscaglia coached the Bulls from 1990-98.
“It’s unfortunate he’s taken this stance,” Legette-Jack said. “It’s about the kid. It’s unfortunate he’s making it a personal vendetta against her.”
But Legette-Jack said Oursler’s absence won’t change her team’s plans – she said “the strangest person could be the one” the team relies on the most. And despite her team’s lack of experience, she doesn’t plan to change what her philosophy’s been since she arrived at UB.
“We’re going to stay the same way. We’re going to be passionate. We’re going to defend. We’re going to go hard,” Legette-Jack said. “That is always been who I am and we can’t change that.”
Legette-Jack wants the UB community to help her program as it sticks to that mentality. She wants to see crowds of fans at games supporting the young team. She wants a village. After all, it has something to prove to people.
“A lot of people don’t know about us. They don’t know about the talent we have coming in,” Smith said. “They don’t expect Buffalo to win. They don’t expect Buffalo to be great. It’s all about improving ourselves so we can show people what we’re all about.”
Buffalo opens the season Saturday against LIU Brooklyn at Alumni Arena. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.