Getting the shot back
Junior guard Cierra Dillard speaks about her return after spending a year away from season play
Cierra Dillard had to sit out the first basketball season of her UB career.
Dillard was the top scorer at UMass Amherst averaging 15.5 points a game and having 60 steals in her 2015-16 season. She had to sit out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Dillard made her return on Nov. 3 in an exhibition game against the Bloomsburg Huskies (1-1). She went 1-5 recording 2 points in the Bulls 64-32 win.
It was not the epic return she had hoped for.
“Coming back against Bloomsburg was a rush of emotions,” Dillard said. “There was excitement, nerves, just relief finally being on the court. I’m still settling down even though that Bloomsburg game was a week and a half ago.”
It had been 610 days since Dillard’s last basketball game.
Dillard’s layoff may have played a factor in her shooting, but her quick hands were on full display as she recorded four steals in the game.
Dillard, a Rochester native, carried a lot of emotion into the game. She felt her inability to play or travel on the road with her team last season made the process that much harder.
“Cierra is going to be fine; she is just anxious to be playing basketball again,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack after the Bloomsburg game. “She just needs time to get comfortable out there. She hasn’t been in an official game in over a year, so I am not worried about her.”
Legette-Jack was right. Dillard scored 17 points and shot 6-12 in the Bulls first official game this season against the Delaware Blue Hens (1-1, 0-0 CAA). But Dillard remains cautious. She stressed not wanting to be working on consistency issues all season.
“Going over film, getting comfortable with my teammates, knowing where they like the ball will get us all more settled with each other and play better,” Dillard said.
Dillard shot 2-6 with 5 points in the Bulls last game against the Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks (1-1, 0-0 MEAC). Despite her inconsistency shooting, Dillard made 3 steals and 6 assists against the Hawks.
Dillard’s ability to set up her teammates makes her a versatile asset for the Bulls. That ability isn’t overlooked by her teammates.
“Cierra has a very high I.Q. for the game, so when she is out on the court, she sees a lot of things we don’t see,” said senior forward Mariah Suchan. “She is very good at knowing what angle to pass the ball at and as a post player her passes are just awesome.”
For Suchan, seeing Dillard’s no-look passes in the Hawks game added another great skill to Dillard’s arsenal. Dillard’s accurate passing will also help aid the Bulls’ new style.
“We have been focusing a lot more on being faster in transition, and with Cierra, she can make those long passes that not everyone will be able to make,” Suchan said.
Playing a fast transition based style is something the Bulls have adopted this season. Legette-Jack has stressed that the Bulls “want to play fast” this year in several interviews and are willing to give up more turnovers in the process.
Fast paced transition play requires fantastic cardio––something the team has been working on this season. Dillard worked on her cardio last season, but a minor injury over the summer made her lose some of the progress gained.
“Getting myself back into game shape is going to come with me playing more games and the season moving on,” Dillard said. “In the summer, coach really pushed us on running the floor and now with all our guards and forwards ready to go we are going to cause trouble for a lot of teams.”
Dillard knows she can get better in all the aspects of her game––a sentiment coaches and players share. But Dillard is hoping to return to form as soon as possible.
“As the season goes on, I’ll be able to get into my comfort mode and get to where I was two years ago,” Dillard said. “I know what I can do and I know how I can always get better on top of that.”
The Bulls' next game is on Nov. 23 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on the road.
Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org