After sitting out year, Cassie Oursler brings UB Bulls much needed post presence
Before she became a midseason addition to the Buffalo women’s basketball team, junior center Cassie Oursler just watched.
And she couldn’t do anything about it.
She watched on the sideline as the Bulls lost to eventual conference champions, Ohio, in the Mid-American Conference Quarterfinals in Cleveland last season. She watched at home when West Virginia defeated Buffalo in the program’s first-ever Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearance. She even had to sit out for the first 10 games of this season.
And if she could have played in any of those games, there may have been a different outcome.
“I think she continues to get better,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “She has a major presence about herself, she just has to slow her down in her head. Once we get her to slow it down in her head, you’re going to see a 20-10 kid.”
Oursler didn’t play an official game for 13 months as she was stuck in Division-I purgatory – she couldn’t play due to strict NCAA transfer rules.Oursler grew up in nearby Grand Island, New York and began her college career at Robert Morris in Pennsylvania in 2013. She decided to transfer to UB during the first semester of her sophomore season to be closer to home after a family illness.
Her sister had several small seizures over the course of several days. Doctors never discovered what was wrong.
“It hit me hard,” Oursler said. “It was something that reminded me how important family was to me and I decided that I wanted to be closer to them.”
Players have to sit out one calendar season when transferring from one Division-I program to another. Oursler transferred to UB in December of 2014, meaning she wouldn’t be eligible until the following December.
She requested a transfer waiver in an effort to play right away, but Robert Morris declined the request. Oursler said that Robert Morris “didn’t support” the transfer, so she would have to sit out for the entire year.
Oursler, who officially joined the program midway through last season, was able to practice with the Bulls, but she was unable to play or travel with the team.
Even though it was discouraging, practice time with her future teammates did help her, as it allowed her to work on some of the “finer details” in her overall game, she said.
She also went against some of Buffalo’s best.
On one possession, she would matchup against former Bull and then-MAC Defensive Player of the Year Christa Baccas. On another, she would play against then-All-MAC second team forward and current assistant coach Kristen Sharkey. Those practices gave Oursler her first taste of the MAC’s best post players.
“It showed me that I had to play better in the post,” Oursler said. “Our post defense, we usually post middle, which was new to me. I had to learn and adjust to that way of defending the post. Just playing against such a strong player was great for me … and [Sharkey] can shoot, too.”
Sharkey and her ability to play in the post and away from the basket was a big challenge. Sharkey would use her speed to get up a quick shot in the post, catching Oursler off guard. If Oursler was slow to come out of the paint, a jump shot was Sharkey’s weapon of choice. But Oursler also had moments of success by providing plenty of frustration for Sharkey during practices.
“I would describe it as just length,” Sharkey said when discussing Oursler’s game in practices. “She needs to understand that she can take over the game in the paint. She has to play a little lower, know that she could not just make plays, but force opponents to change their plays as well. Once she does that, I think she’s going to be unstoppable.”
Oursler made her debut on Dec. 29, 2015 against Sacred Heart. Since then, she has averaged 7.8 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds in 15 games. Besides sophomore guard Stephanie Reid and junior guard Joanna Smith, Oursler has been Buffalo’s most prolific scorer.
Oursler provided the Bulls with an offensive punch from the moment she began playing. She scored at least eight points in four of her first seven games, including three games in double figures. She also added two games with double-digit rebounding.
On a team that needed an additional scorer, Ourlser’s arrival to the rotation has helped the Bulls get more scoring on the interior. But her head coach thinks she can still grow into an even better player.
“She’s so young,” Legette-Jack said. “She doesn’t even know what she doesn’t know yet. She’s going to take some time to get into the flow, but the early results are great. Every game she’s played, she’s getting a little bit better.”
There have been down moments, such as when Oursler came off the bench for two games to corral her issues with fouls. The fouls were something that plagued Oursler for the start of her tenure, highlighted by a seven-game stretch in which she accumulated four or more fouls in each game. The rust a year with no game action was apparent.
And there have been moments of brilliance, like her season-high 16 points in a crucial win over Miami Ohio last Saturday. With Reid and Smith getting most of the attention, Oursler found herself with a chance to flourish on the offensive side of the ball – getting easy layup attempts and forcing double teams.
It was a moment that drew strong praises from her head coach.
“This kid, to me, could be really special because it doesn’t take much energy to run down the floor,” Legette-Jack said. “She can run the floor well, I just want her to get it in her eyes and once that happens, I know we’ll have a special player on our hands.”
Not bad for a kid who sat on the sidelines for more than a year.
Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter.