Championship growth

Women’s basketball looks to continue high level of success with seven new players

womens-basketball

The triple gym in Alumni Arena had an air of hunger for program success Wednesday afternoon. Coaches yelling, players pushing themselves in drills and buzzer beaters from half court were all present at the women’s basketball practice. 

Even with seven new players, the Bulls have the same hunger for greatness they had last season when Buffalo made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

“I am very pleased with the way these young women have played already this season,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “We have new faces on the team but the people who have been here help build what this team is about.”

Legette-Jack has said in multiple interviews with The Spectrum that the women’s basketball team is about building players into both astounding people and athletes. 

Legette-Jack has never been shy of high expectations while at Buffalo. She led the program to its first Mid-American Conference Championship and its most wins in Division I history last year. Now with a goal of making the Elite Eight, Legette-Jack will look to take a new 16-player team into the season with key returning players.

“We are continuing in coach Jack’s vision,” said senior guard Cierra Dillard. “She has brought in seven amazing additions who are very eager to make the program thrive.”

Dillard said she is in the best shape of her career heading into this season. She credited her time at Buffalo in the summer to her growth as an athlete. Dillard said she would normally go home for the off-season but decided to stay to continue practicing after averaging 16.2 points last season. 

Dillard received national praise for her NCAA Tournament performances and said she is confident in herself to follow up this season. Dillard said she plans to ride the momentum from last year's season into this one and continue the success the Bulls have earned in the past five years. 

According to Dillard, much of the belief in the Bulls’ success comes from Buffalo’s recent additions.

“From the [point guards] of Aireal and Finess Dickson … their defense is incredible and is a great add for our team,” Dillard said. “We also have some great bigs with [Adebola Adeyeye] who is six-two and just explosive at the rim. We got Keowa [Walters] who is just a big body at the rim who is athletic and goes hard.”

Freshman Aireal Dickson and redshirt-freshman Finess Dickson are sisters who were two highly touted players before joining UB. Ariel Dickson committed first, which according to Legette-Jack, helped to recruit her sister to Buffalo. Now both players are eligible to start this season with players and coaches saying they expect skilled performances from the pair.

“The talent and energy of this team just makes this place feel amazing,” Arieal Dickson said. “I choose this place because, at Buffalo, the coaches actually care about you. I also wanted to go somewhere that didn’t have decades of success. Somewhere I could help build something and not be just another name.”

Arieal Dickson is the expected scorer, while Finess Dickson has been praised for her defense and passing ability. Arieal said that playing with her sister wasn’t a new experience, but she didn’t expect to still be playing with her at the college level. Now she said she hopes to make the most of her time playing with Finess after she transferred from Memphis this off-season.

“Finess reminds me of [Stephanie Reid],” Dillard said. “Just a player who will always press the person in front of her while playing every inch of the court.”

Fellow freshman point guard Oceane Kounkou has also impressed early in her Buffalo career. Kounkou has been touted for her shooting ability and is now focusing on getting in to Division I shape. Kounkou said that the transition from high school to college play is tough, but said the Bulls team does a lot to help get her in shape.

“The intensity is a game changer for me,” Kounkou said. “I really enjoy the fast pace we have. My shot can add a lot to our team but I just have to get at the same speed as the intensity. I already feel I can play our style, it’s just about playing it for a whole game now.”

Legette-Jack has always pushed conditioning with the Bulls’ fast-paced style. It is a style that not every player can thrive in, but Legette-Jack sees the players on her team as capable

“I always take this one day at a time,” Legette-Jack said. “You can always get better and the only way you can do that is by seeing where you are today and improving that for tomorrow. I am really excited to see what these young women will do and what we can do for these young women as the season gets near.”

The Bulls play their first game on Nov. 1 at Alumni Arena, in an exhibition game against the Bloomsburg Huskies. Last year, the Bulls beat the Huskies 64-32 in the opening home exhibition game.

“I’m not looking for anything specific thing to improve,” Legette-Jack said. “You have to pay attention to the players everyday and treat each day like a fresh start. I’m not nervous about conditioning or stuff like that –– I just want to see what we all need to do to make this team better.”

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Thomas_Spectrum