New recruits add to the future of UB’s women’s basketball program
Felisha Legette-Jack hopes people start paying attention to what’s happening in Western New York. She isn’t just hoping to build a team, she’s hoping to build a dynasty.
“I just think we can build this university’s women’s basketball team up with unbelievable athletes,” women’s basketball head coach Jack said. “We can bring that here and build that up, the fan base is going to get better, which is going to be awesome. Hopefully the nation will get to know about Western New York.”
This past offseason, the Bulls (5-0) brought in a plethora of talent in pursuit of that dynasty. After capturing the first MAC title in program history last season, this new group of talent will have to find a way to fit in with a deep Bulls roster.
Led by freshman forward Summer Hemphill, these new Bulls could provide immediate impact. Hemphill, a Buffalo native, played high school basketball just 15 minutes away from Alumni Arena. As a senior at Cardinal O’Hara High School she was selected to the All-WNY first team.
Jack seems to have plans for Hemphill to get into the lineup a lot this season. In the Bulls’ season opener, Hemphill played almost 20 minutes off the bench for Buffalo. She held up well in her first regular season collegiate game. She finished with eight points and looked even better hitting the boards, finishing with nine.
“All I want her to do is get rebounds, run the floor hard and put back layups,” Jack said. “And if we can do those things and add more to it, it would be a blessing.”
Hemphill is joined in the paint by another freshman forward, Lawrencia Moten. The three-star recruit will leave her own mark on not only Buffalo, but on her family legacy as well. Her father, Lawrence Moten, is still the all-time leading scorer in the history of Syracuse basketball.
For Moten, she will need to focus the early part of her first year in Buffalo on rehabbing. Because of an injury prior to her senior campaign, she was forced to miss the entire season last year.
“It’s been a long journey, blew her knee out about 14 months ago,” Jack said. “So her progression is going to be different than some of these [newcomers] because of her injury and we’re gonna navigate through that with her as well.”
The progress may come slow but it could yield great rewards for the Bulls. If Moten can return to the form she displayed prior to the injury she could be a major part of the rotation for the Bulls later in the season. She has embraced the Bulls’ team mentality and is willing to defer the role she’s used to for the sake of helping the team win.
“My role on the team, right now, is definitely someone whose coming off the bench and trying to give energy out to my team,” Moten said. “I definitely need to rebound for my team and finish around the basket and just fill in where needed, it’s different than high school cause everyone’s a star player on their high school, so it’s like an all-star team here.”
Hemphill and Moten have the potential to form a formidable duo down low for the Bulls over the next four years.
The freshman class is rounded out by guard Theresa Onwuka. A long and athletic guard, she could see action at a couple different positions for Buffalo. Even in high school, her coach’s praised her hustle and Jack see’s that same hustle now.
“[Onwuka] is a good kid, she’s a ferocious driver, unbelievable teammate, a hard worker, and amazing student. She’s just going to be a person who's going to come in and if you need energy, just send her in the game and automatically the energy changes into a different notch. I just think that she’s gonna have to learn how to play through mistakes just like any freshman.”
Jack knows freshmen are going to go through their share of mistakes and heartaches, something she calls a “freshman moment.” That freshman moment, she explained, is that point in the year where a freshman can no longer fly under the radar because the other team finally has the film to study them.
But she and her staff will help the freshman get over the hump and get their season back on track.
Captain and senior guard JoAnna Smith also knows that she and her teammates have to take it upon themselves to get the freshmen to the level they need to be.
“We have to bring them along with us, we still need another three, another five, another eight,” Smith said. “We need to get the best out of them, we have to pull it out of them. So game time it will be easy if we can make them comfortable in practice.”
Buffalo’s newcomers are rounded out by junior guard Cierra Dillard. Another native Western New Yorker, she chose to transfer to Buffalo after two seasons playing for the University of Massachusetts. Part of the decision was to be closer to home but a bigger part of it was to join the budding dynasty.
“I love what coach Jack is doing with the program,” Dillard said. “I love her style of coaching, I think it fits my style very well, I think she’ll bring me up to my potential that I’ll play in. I think that she’s doing a great job with the team here. I just wanted to join that and help and continue the growth here at UB.”
Although NCAA transfer rules will keep Dillard out of competition this season, she could be a force to be reckoned with in the MAC next year. She led the Minutemen in both scoring (15.5 points per game) and steals (2.0 steals per game). With Smith graduating following this season, Dillard’s scoring could be a needed replacement next year.
Regardless of their statistical turnout, Jack just wants to know that these new players are willing to give their all to the team.
“My expectation is that we leave it out there every single possession, every single game, every single time we represent the University at Buffalo,” Jack said. “We have to be able to look in the mirror and know we left it all out there, win or lose.”
*Daniel Petruccelli and Thomas Zafonte contributed reporting to this story.
Brian Lara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org