UB Bulls' Sharkey goes from post to the sidelines

Former forward Kristen Sharkey transitions to assistant coach

Kristen Sharkey was given one day to decide about her basketball future.

Once she graduated UB, she was in position to continue her basketball career overseas either in Germany or France.

Or she could take a vacant assistant coaching position next to her former women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack.

“Overseas, I probably would have only gotten a year playing because of my knee,” Sharkey said. “This was a long-term decision.”

Sharkey is one of the most prolific players in program history. She ranks fifth in program history in both career games (120) and free throws (305), 10th in rebounds (759) and 11th in blocks (98). Sharkey returns as an assistant coach to teach the young wave of new Bulls what it’s like to play in Buffalo.

“I always try having one of my players on my staff. A lot of times, it didn’t work out,” Legette-Jack said. “It’s like forcing a circle into a square just to have a player of mine on my staff. With Kristen Sharkey, it made sense. Her total understanding of my system, an understanding of what we’re trying to create at her alma mater. She got it. She got it from day one.”

Sharkey noticed an opening on the basketball coaching staff following the departure of assistant coach Blake Dudonis. Sharkey quickly called Legette-Jack – something she would have never sporadically done without playing for Buffalo, she admits – to inquire about the opening.

She was hired as the team’s new post coach.

“Before I met coach Jack, I never would have had the confidence to do that,” Sharkey said recalling her sudden phone call about the interview. “That’s just a testament to how much she means to me and that she would even think this would be a possibility. It was a long stretch, but she went with it.”

But it may not have been as far of a stretch as Sharkey plays it out to be. The post is one of the hardest positions to dominate. Sharkey said she dominated because she knew it wasn’t OK to take even one second off while playing under the basket. You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest or fastest player, but you have to be the most aggressive.

And to Legette-Jack, having a weapon like that is key.

Due to her age, Sharkey occasionally laces up her sneakers and trains the young post players during practice this offseason and is expected to do so for the remainder of the season. Her knee, in which she tore an ACL before her sophomore year, is healthy enough to keep up with a minimum workload for practice and is strong enough to go 100 percent to give players a game-like look.

Legette-Jack wants post players and coaches like Sharkey.

“She was a post player that really couldn’t jump, really didn’t have a great 3-point shot and wasn’t the best back-to-the-basket post player,” Legette-Jack said, “but no one could stop her … I needed that type of toughness and elasticity on our staff.”

It was a weird feeling for Sharkey to change up her usual offseason regimen. For the past four seasons, she would spend her offseason rehabilitating, conditioning and training. Tireless hours working out in the weight room and on the court are no longer needed.

She traded in her basketball shorts for a clipboard and suit jacket. Her two-hour practice is now planning post plays for young forwards like freshmen Brittany Morrison and Mirte Scheper.

It was a weird dynamic for Sharkey to accept at first, but she now feels comfortable on the other side. Yet, the player dynamic was never in question.

Sharkey said all of the players respect her the fact she was teammates with some of them eight months ago. She finds it “neat” to watch her former teammates grow. Sharkey admires how guards Liisa Ups and Joanna Smith have changed “before her eyes.” She’s ready to see what senior guard Karin Moss can do as a first-year captain – a position Sharkey held for two years.

Legette-Jack never doubted her transition.

“When she was a player,” Legette-Jack explained, “there was a separation between her and the players because her commitment to do it the coaching style way.”

Sharkey said players would joke around and call her “coach” last season because of her professional demeanor to the game. She, like Legette-Jack, preaches enthusiasm and going 100 percent. And she knows it will be worth it in the end.

Sharkey took the job because she wants to see what the program can grow to. She has been involved with the program in some of its darkest and brightest days and realized there is too much potential to pass up a coaching opportunity.

She wants to keep telling the team that their voices matter and it will take a team effort to have success in the program. It was an idea she bought into during Legette-Jack’s first season four years ago.

“You have to bust through the door. You have to raise your hand and you got to scream from the rooftop,” Legette-Jack explained. “She did have a voice and she was the best person for the job. Not the best woman, not the best man, not the oldest, not the youngest. She’s the best person for the job for what we’re trying to create here for our women’s basketball program.”

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman