Cierra Dillard drafted 20th overall in WNBA draft
She becomes first-ever player drafted into WNBA from UB
ROCHESTER –– About a mile away from where it all began, Cierra Dillard’s childhood dream came true. Dillard became the first women’s basketball player from Buffalo to ever be drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association, becoming the 20th pick and joining the Minnesota Lynx.
On Wednesday, she stood in front of over 100 people who gathered at MacGregor’s Grill and Tap Room to see her drafted into the WNBA. It was originally supposed to be just 10-15 people.
“It means the world to me [to get drafted],” Dillard said. “I mean, only 36 people get this opportunity to be selected and the work is definitely not done. To hear your name on TV and know that all that hard work and dedication has paid off to feel this moment is unbelievable.”
Dillard spent three years in Buffalo, breaking numerous records along the way and leading the Bulls to two NCAA tournament appearances. Dillard originally committed to UMass Amherst before finding her home and her love for basketball all over again at UB.
She broke the single-season program record in points, points per game, free throws made and three-pointers made while finishing second in the nation in scoring at 25.2 ppg.
Dillard suffered an injury in her last collegiate game. She rolled her ankle and limped her way to the finish line as the Bulls fell to UConn in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
“The thing she zips down, puts in, and zips up is her heart,” women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “It would have had to be amputated for her to not play and that’s something that a team is going to get from her tonight. If it’s broke, that’s the only way she’s not going to play.”
Dillard has played through getting punched, elbowed and kicked this season. She never feared away from driving inside and attempted more free throws this season than anyone in UB women’s basketball history.
For Dillard, it was learning how to take the punches that made her the player she was today.
Dillard wasn’t happy when playing at UMass. She was the star player leading the team in points but they weren’t winning.
She almost quit her freshman year. UMass played against St. Bonaventure and lost 65-53. Dillard led her team with 14 points but brother-in-law Chris Nicholson remembers it as the first time her childhood dream almost came to an end.
“That was a close game she had,” Nicholson said. “She walked off the court and said ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.’”
Dillard played one more year at UMass. Her family drove the five-and-a-half hours each way to see her play but it wasn’t enough.
She needed to be home.
Dillard transferred to UB that year. Buffalo was only an hour away from her hometown but she wouldn’t play her first season there due to transfer rules. It was the toughest season of her career but just the start of something special.
“It was the best thing to ever happen to her,” Nicholson said. “It was the first time in a long time she had to learn the game from a different perspective. She learned to be a better teammate, be a better cheerleader and it actually helped her basketball. I don’t think we’re here today without that.”
Dillard has an opportunity that other Western New York greats haven’t had. Legette-Jack is a WNY native and could have been drafted into the league after her career at Syracuse, but the WNBA was founded in 1997, eight years after her playing career ended.
Legette-Jack now has the opportunity to live her dreams through the girl she coached into a woman.
“It’s all about her time right now, it’s all for her and all for good,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m so proud. I’m so excited because this is what it’s supposed to feel like and this is what the trajectory of what it’s going to be like at UB women’s basketball.”
“She said ‘yes,’ and because of her ‘yes,’ we became something not just known around this little area but throughout the nation.”
Dillard’s tests in the WNBA will come soon enough but for now, the only one on her mind is her upcoming exam in a class this week.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NateMendelson