Legette-Jack proud of alma mater ‘Cuse’s improbable run to Final Four


Felisha Legette-Jack apparently knows “the formula.”

This formula is the key for any student-athlete that yearns to make it to that next level, that next game – hoping their season will never come to an end. It has nothing to do with how big or strong or talented the team is. The only factor that matters is how committed the team is to winning.

She credits her tenure as a star player at Syracuse University 30 years ago and her tenure as an assistant coach at the university for helping her learn the formula.

Now, that same school stands two games away from taking home a national championship after being counted out as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It doesn’t matter what your seed is,” Legette-Jack said. “You zip down and you put in and you zip back up around that chest area. It’s called heart. I think the Syracuse athletes have that heart, that desire.”

Legette-Jack’s alma mater’s run to the Final Four is aspiring the Buffalo women’s basketball team head coach and her players, who recently just completed their own conference championship season and improbable run to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. It has the team thinking big and asking questions like “Why not us?”

The Syracuse women’s basketball team wasn’t expected to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange breezed past Army West Point and Albany in the first two rounds, which set up a matchup against No. 1 seed South Carolina.

What was supposed to be a dominant victory for South Carolina and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A’ja Wilson turned out to be the bigger upsets of the tournament and one of the biggest wins in Syracuse history. The Orange then defeated No. 7 seed Tennessee to make their first-ever Final Four in program history.

It was a run nobody expected.

“No one really expected much from them, but they’re in the Final Four right now,” said Buffalo junior center Cassie Oursler. “They’re a force to be reckoned with. They have the talent and anyone can go up any day with them, which was similar to what our team was. They have a solid skill set and they’re very low-key about it.”

Legette-Jack preached “the village” all season – homage to the Syracuse community she grew up in as a child. Legette-Jack always rose to the occasion. Even when she was accepting her Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 1984, her speech had nothing to do with her play – she wanted a Big East Championship, Syracuse’s previous conference.

So when she was watching both the Syracuse men and women’s improbable runs in their respective NCAA Tournaments, all she could think of was Buffalo’s improbable run.

The Bulls entered the MAC Tournament as a No. 8 seed and had to win a first-round campus game just to make it to Cleveland.

Then, the improbable happened.

Buffalo rattled off three straight upsets, including against No. 1 seed Ohio, and culminating in sophomore guard Stephanie Reid’s buzzer-beating game-winner against Central Michigan in the MAC Championship game.

“We were a No. 8 seed in the MAC Tournament and we beat the No. 1 seed,” Legette-Jack said. “So we took it to another historical level here. We’ve already got the formula to come from behind to knock off No. 1. I learned that from being a student-athlete at Syracuse.”

And even though the Bulls couldn’t get a win against Ohio State in their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, they at least now have a proven formula.

Legette-Jack admits Buffalo and Syracuse are different teams. The Orange have the physicality of an Atlantic Coast Conference team.

Still, Syracuse stands two wins away from a national title – a position it likely shouldn’t have been in, but are. That’s the beauty of March Madness.

So why not Buffalo?

“We both want to win a national title,” Legette-Jack said of Buffalo and Syracuse. “Just because we’re a Mid-Major doesn’t have me thinking any differently. All I know is what my brain is layered like and I came from Syracuse University. And I say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool I’m really proud of them. But why not us, why not now?’ Buffalo has the opportunity just like everybody else and we’re going after it every single day.”

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