UB women's basketball honors late Eastern Michigan player

Team wears patches in memory of Shannise Heady

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The women’s basketball team matchup against Eastern Michigan on Jan. 31 proved there is more to the sport than competition.

The Bulls and the Eagles share a storied conference history that dates back to 1994, with Eastern Michigan leading the all-time series 13-8. Usually, a conference matchup this deep into the season is filled with wretched distaste for the opposing team and the moments before tipoff are tense.

But the mood in the Convocation Center at Eastern Michigan University on Jan. 31 was far from aggressive. Before the game began, both teams stood at half court and shared a somber moment of silence before a tribute video appeared on the Eastern Michigan television screen.

The Bulls were the first team to play a basketball game in Ypsilanti since two Eastern Michigan students, junior Shannise Heady and Jordan Hopkins, died in an automobile accident on Hewlett Road in Ypsilanti, Michigan around 1 a.m. on Jan. 25. Heady was a member of the Eagles’ basketball team.

“It was a really emotional pregame,” said senior forward Kristen Sharkey. “There was a small ceremony and a moment of silence for her before the game. Seeing the coaches and the players in tears before the game was definitely a tough situation to sit through. I can only imagine how it felt.”

The Bulls will wear a black No. 32 patch on the right shoulder of the jersey for the remainder of the season as a testament to the team’s conference rival. Heady wore No. 32 for the Eagles.

For Bulls head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, it was more than just another game. Legette-Jack – fighting tears – said she was honoring a player she knew personally.

Heady was a recruit of Legette-Jack when she was a member of the Indiana University coaching staff.

“While I was on the coaching staff at Indiana University, I met her mom – I met Shannise and I knew her personally,” Legette-Jack said. “She was a bright, brilliant young lady, and it was tough being there watching a ceremony in tribute of her passing.”

Sharkey said wearing the patches shows “solidarity” with the Eagles.

“It’s more than just a patch,” she said. “It’s a sign that while we play this game and represent our programs, this conference is a family and we wanted to show our full support for a school in our conference going through a rough time.”

Junior guard Mackenzie Loesing also said it was something the conference had to do in Eastern Michigan’s time of need.

“The entire conference showing supported needed to happen,” Loesing said. “We love to fight for Buffalo, but if something tragic were to happen to me or one of us in the UB program, getting support from the rest of the teams in the MAC would be great. It’s more than just basketball.”

After Heady’s death, Eastern Michigan returned to the court to on Jan. 31 to play the Bulls with heavy hearts. The Bulls defeated Eastern Michigan that night 75-53 behind Sharkey’s 24 points.

Legette-Jack said coping with Heady’s death made the Bulls stronger.

“I tell my players that if you need my help, my phone is always on my bedside,” Legette-Jack said. “I don’t care if you feel lost, you need someone to help you with a situation, a relationship, anything. I will be there if you need me. That line of communication is always open.”

Legette-Jack said she was coaching with a “heavy heart” that night but still had an obligation to keep a “competitive” nature.

Loesing, who finished with 16 points in the Jan. 31 victory over Eastern Michigan, agreed with Legette-Jack that playing their best showed the Eagles respect.

“It was tough, but we pulled it together,” Loesing said. “We didn’t want to take advantage of a game like that nor could we go in expected for an easy win because they were dealing with adversity. We felt like the ultimate respect we can offer as a conference mate was playing a good game.”

The decision for every team in the conference to wear the patches was not only a tribute to Eastern Michigan and to Heady, but it was a message that the all the teams in the conference see each other as family. The loss of Heady was a loss for the Eastern Michigan family, as well as the MAC family, according to Legette-Jack.

“It’s a tough lesson,” Legette-Jack said. ”Sometimes, life offers you an experience, good or bad, and you need to teach your team and nurture them through these tough lessons. Hopefully, I’m doing a good job, and we did a good job in showing solidary and tribute to Eastern Michigan during their tough time.”

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