Following the greatest
Cierra Dillard discusses season expectations, where her style of play came from
Cierra Dillard remembers watching LeBron James when she was young and being stunned. She saw not only the best player on the court, but one that made the whole team look good. She saw a player who didn’t just drop 30 points, but also threatened a double-double with either assists or rebounds.
Now at 22, Dillard finds herself in a similar key playmaker role James thrives on: as the star point guard for the women’s basketball team.
Dillard and the Bulls are coming off a historic season, having set the program’s win record at 29 and making it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. Dillard made national headlines with her performance in the NCAA Tournament, where her three-point scoring ability was on full display in the program’s first two tournament wins.
Now, she said she is focused on making her final season at UB even more historic then last year.
“I am just so grateful to be here at UB,” Dillard said. “You don’t know where life will lead you and just being from Rochester makes this situation that much better. I really want to make my last season at UB something special.”
Dillard has already scored 27 points in the first game of the season. Dillard was the top scorer last season at 16.2 points per game and is already on pace to outscore herself this season.
She said she is in the best shape of her life and focused on working out throughout the summer. She said the YMCA was her training center away from Buffalo and has always used the community gym as a practice space since she was young. Dillard credited her family for their support on and off the court.
Dillard was the top scorer at UMass Amherst in her sophomore season before transferring to UB. Dillard was UB’s second-best passer last season, averaging 5.2 assists per game.
“She going to be better than fine,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “Cierra is one of those players I don’t even worry about. I shouldn’t say it like that, but she has her shot so tuned in and can be that leader on the floor. Players like her are the ones you trust completely as a coach.”
Growing up in Western New York, Dillard was not concerned with scoring in her early days. Dillard said she was a pass-first player for years, before one day finding her touch behind the arc.
“It wasn’t until I got into my junior year of high school that I shot a three,” Dillard said. “It’s funny, I talk about it with my old coach a lot. Before then, I would have never have tried to score much outside the paint. Once I started shooting, it didn’t take too long to get my range down.”
Once Dillard had her lethal three shot, she would “emulate” LeBron by spreading the ball on the floor. Dillard could find the open shooter once teams over-committed to stopping her three shot.
Dillard was recruited heavily after high school and was initially approached by Buffalo. Dillard signed with UMass but remembered Legette-Jack saying “I’d see you again.”
She transferred to UB two years later.
Dillard has been the star scorer for Buffalo since March when she closed out last season by scoring over 15 points in six-straight games. Her career performance came with the 36 points and 6 rebounds she had against Southern Florida.
“Cierra and the rest of the older players were very inviting when I got here,” said freshman guard Oceane Konokou. “She is such a talented player but she gets you playing at a higher level. All the experienced players help and everything comes easier with her on the court.”
Dillard said she tries to be a leader to help spearhead the team as its lead scorer and as a senior. The role was a natural fit, as she was an active voice in practice already, according to Dillard. Legette-Jack said Dillard was a consistent scoring option for the team was a “pillar” of the team as a guard.
“We don’t have Cierra going on a slow start this year,” Legette-Jack said. “She is ready, I think a lot of the team is ready to get the season started. Cierra is a special player who I see doing great things as both a player and a young woman.”
Dillard started last season on an off-shooting note, shooting 50 percent or less in her first five games. Legette-Jack said last season that she was finding her shot early, something that would prove true come MAC season. Dillard shot 11-of-14 and 5-of-6 from deep in this season’s exhibition game against Bloomsburg.
“I’ve been working all summer and now I just want to get out and play,” Dillard said. “LeBron is trying to figure things out on the [Los Angeles] Lakers right now and that is what we are doing in Buffalo. We got talent, now we just need to come together and play our basketball. I love this team, Coach Jack is like a second mother and I want to get out their and play for them again.”
Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Thomas_Spectrum