Too Legette to quit
After tumult in Indiana, coach has Buffalo program headed in right direction
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 18:03
CLEVELAND – March 12, 2012, was one of the hardest days of Felisha Legette-Jack’s life. It was the day Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass informed her she had been fired.
"You don’t know what to believe in at times,” Legette-Jack said. “I talked to my mom, who I call Mother Theresa, and I asked her: ‘Can you question God sometimes? Can you be angry?’ She said: ‘Yes, but not for long.’”
Legette-Jack, the all-time leading rebounder at Syracuse University, has always had a propensity to bounce back. Three months and two days later, University at Buffalo Athletic Director Danny White introduced the former college star as UB’s new women’s basketball head coach.
It was smooth and windy outside Alumni Arena on June 14. When Legette-Jack took the podium inside UB’s “Bullpen,” she said the school was a diamond in the rough. She talked about bringing “swagger” to the women’s basketball program and made proclamations about Buffalo like “the secret is out!”
Her talk seemed too big considering she had just been fired, considering she was taking over a team that had just gone 9-22 and 4-12 in the Mid-American Conference. In all, Legette-Jack’s confidence seemed neither warranted nor plausible.
Judging by her team’s 12-20 overall mark this year, the casual onlooker might still think she was misled. But if you watched the No. 7 Bulls in this year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament – their run ending Thursday afternoon with a hard-fought, 83-79 loss to No. 3 Akron in the quarterfinals – you could tell something has changed. The air in the women’s basketball program has shifted. Losing is no longer acceptable.
“She came in giving us standards, and we had to reach those standards,” said junior point guard Margeaux Gupilan, who had 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the loss to Akron. “I feel like she brought the best out of all of us and made us better in the process.”
Gupilan paused for a few moments, leaning away from the press conference microphone and collecting her breath. “We just really want to work hard for her, and this game was very emotional for us, but I think the change was really good.”
A lot of the fresh air has to do with the players, of course, but the change starts with the head coach. If you asked Legette-Jack, you would never think she had anything to do with the improvement. Asked about the job she did this year, Legette-Jack first thanked former UB head coach Linda Hill-MacDonald, who was fired at the end of last season, for recruiting the right kind of “character kids.”
Sophomore forward Kristen Sharkey had the game of her life on Thursday afternoon. She totaled 26 points and seven boards.
“We’ve overcome so much this season,” Sharkey said. “We had a new coach. She changed everything, our mindsets. We’re all blessed to have her as part of our lives now.... It’s just a completely different atmosphere. Our bond is so strong that we just want to fight for each other every day.”
Some teams adapt a mantra for the season – for motivation, for focus. The UB football team stated last year that its slogan was “UB stands for Unfinished Business.” For the women’s basketball team, the mantra was just one word: Forward. Legette-Jack said it only mattered that the Bulls continued to move forward.
And move forward they did. Legette-Jack became the first coach in UB history to win a MAC Tournament game in her first year. She won two.
As for Legette-Jack’s anger with God? Her new team helped remedy that.
“They have transformed me into even a greater believer,” she said. “You look at them from the beginning and you see all that’s wrong when you take a job, but at the end of it all, I see what’s so right about Buffalo. ... I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about what we’re going to do next. My energy is off the chart.”
For Legette-Jack, March 12, 2012, was one of the worst days of her life. One year and two days later, she is in a different situation.
She got angry, yes. But not for long.