Backcourt duo of Stephanie Reid and Joanna Smith usher in new era of UB women's basketball
Guards are Bulls' new leaders
Joanna Smith and Stephanie Reid still have problems swallowing the women’s basketball team’s semifinal loss in last year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The duo combined for 17 points in the 63-55 loss to Ohio. But their stats didn’t matter in the end.
“I want to share good performances with my teammates,” Smith, a junior guard, said. “I look back on last year and it’s not a good feeling and I feel motivated by it every day.”
But this is a new season for the two guards. They are playing without the veteran personnel they played with last year. They each have one more year of basketball knowledge to their names. Both will most likely to lead Buffalo's backcourt. Now it's their team to lead into another postseason opportunity.
Reid and Smith developed a trusting relationship with one another, with Reid referring to their relationship as the “dynamic duo.”
“We want to keep this dynamic duo thing going,” Reid said. “If I drive [to the basket], I know Jo is behind me. She’s always in the right spot.”
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Reid fell in love with basketball at an early age. She said she remembers sitting on her mother’s shoulders to shoot baskets.
She chose UB because of the already established Australian connection - guards Liisa and Katherine Ups are both from Australia, along with assistant coach Cherie Cordoba.
Little did Reid know she would eventually play side-by-side with one of her best friends on the team. Smith knew that an on-court relationship was bound to occur between the two as soon as Reid arrived at UB.
“She was the point guard right when she stepped off the plane,” Smith said. “I had nothing but respect for her since that very moment.”
Even though Reid was immediately thought of as the starting point guard, she still saw it as an opportunity rather than something expected.
“When I got the opportunity, I knew I just had to go with it,” Reid said. “My mom always told me that good things come to those and work hard. The leaders we had last year made it really easy to come off the plane then right onto the court.”
Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack also acknowledged Reid’s quick transition to starting point guard from the moment she arrived in Buffalo.
“Steph really had to learn on the fly. We put the ball in her hands and said ‘go,”’ she said.
For Smith, a consistent playing career in Buffalo was more uncertain.
That is, until a few weeks after last season, when it was announced that former guard Mackenzie Loesing, one of the most prolific players in program history, had been dealing with a career-ending ankle injury after multiple surgeries and years of wear-and-tear.
At the beginning of last season, Loesing was a starter, but eventually moved into a six-man role coming off the bench to preserve whatever was left in her ankle. At that moment, Smith knew it was time to step up and show Legette-Jack she was capable of filling those big shoes.
Stepping up in place of Loesing, Smith started 20 games for the 2014-15 season, averaging 5.6 points per game and shooting 33 percent from the field.
Reid, on the other hand, started 17 games, averaging 6.7 points per game and shotting 42 percent from the field.
With consecutive blowout victories in the Bulls’ exhibition matches, the leadership roles Reid and Smith have may be the key to provide the spark in leading the team to a MAC Championship.
“I respect [Reid] as a point guard,” Smith said. “I always try to echo what [Reid] is saying on the court and make sure she’s taken care of.”
Legette-Jack is optimistic that these two have what it takes to step up and be the leaders this team needs, which is quite unexpected considering the duo’s humble beginnings to their UB careers.
With a freshman class that makes up more than one-third of the roster, Smith and Reid know they have their work cut out for them. However, they were quick to point out that this class of freshman brings a new sense of energy and challenges to this team.
“Coach Jack came to me at the end of my sophomore year and told me the amount of freshmen that were going to be recruited. So I knew I had to step up because of that,” Smith said. “They bring a new sense of energy and our work ethic is way up from last year because of them.”
Much like Smith and Reid’s relationship, the new freshman have learned to trust one another in the same way, something Reid admitted only developed through hard work over the summer.
But she also said that the only way to really learn is through experience.
“With trust comes communication and we all get along very well,” Reid said. “But we need more experience. After a couple games they will understand the Division-I experience.”
For Smith and Reid, this season will represent more than just a season of new faces. If they had to send one message to the freshman class they took it upon themselves to lead, it would be to not have another repeat of Cleveland, something that Smith and Reid still harbor a lot of emotion toward.
Rueben Wolf is a sports contributing writer. Sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.