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UB women’s basketball hopes to add athleticism with 2016 recruiting class

Bulls bring in three players, two from Western New York

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With just one player on its roster graduating, the Buffalo women’s basketball team was already in a great position to defend its Mid-American Conference Championship crown.

It may have just gotten better too.

The Bulls bring in three players for next season – one transfer and two high school seniors. University of Massachusetts guard Cierra Dillard joins high school seniors Theresa Onwuka and Summer Hemphill for the recruiting class.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said the new recruits bring another dimension to the roster that was lacking at times last season: athleticism.

“The first word that jumps out is athletic,” Legette-Jack said. “We just got more athletic today with the three players that we signed. We’re still fighting hard to get more people, but today, I think we got more athletic. We got quicker laterally and our basketball I.Q. expanded for sure.”

Dillard is the biggest acquisition. She averaged 15.5 points and 3.3 rebounds for Massachusetts this past season. Per NCAA rules, Dillard must sit out the 2016-17 season, but will arrive just in time to fill in the holes left by rising seniors Joanna Smith and Cassie Oursler, both of whom will have graduated.

Kainan Guo | The Spectrum

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack hopes the team's new recruiting class will add athleticism to the team. 

As a Rochester native, Dillard caught Legette-Jack’s attention when she was a senior in high school, but she opted to attend school outside of the state. Now that she’s returning to join the Bulls, it provides Legette-Jack a chance to coach a player she called an “excellent talent.”

“We saw her coming out of high school and thought she was incredible, “ Legette-Jack said. “We were so fortunate that she wanted to come back and play closer to home. She brings a strong guard approach, can play confrontational or finesse and can shoot the ball. She also bring a physical aspect to the game, too, especially when rebounding.”

Along with Dillard, Onwuka and Hemphill both bring different elements to the team. Onwuka, as Legette-Jack described it, is a “an athletic, left-handed guard, coming from a winning culture.” Hemphill on the other hand fits Legette-Jack’s need for a forward on the perimeter. The 6-foot-1 forward provides the Bulls with a “solid defender, both at the rim and at the top of a press,” according to Legette-Jack.

Two of the three new players are from Western New York. With junior center and Grand Island native Cassie Oursler already on the roster, Hemphill and Dillard will give the Bulls three players from the Western New York area next season.

During a press conference in Columbus, Ohio for the NCAA Tournament, Legette-Jack lauded the talent in New York, as St. Bonaventure and Syracuse both joined Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament this season, with Syracuse advancing all the way to the national championship game.

Legette-Jack, who played at Syracuse and was born in the city, wants to build a program where players from Western New York want to come to Buffalo and help the program. She said that the team’s success last season might have changed players’ perceptions of attending Buffalo.

“Western New York has some great student-athletes,” Legette-Jack said. “We needed to win first to show that this is a place you can come to. That this is a place you can stay and grow in your career … Buffalo is alive and well and as a local kid who stayed and went to Syracuse and went to help turn the program around, we want to do the same and I want kids who want to do the same.”

The Bulls will return all five starters from this past season, including Smith, who was a candidate for MAC Player of the Year.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter. 


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