Head women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack on a trying season, pushing her young team
Felisha Legette-Jack is taking a holistic approach to her team’s struggles this season.
The UB women’s basketball head coach, now in her eighth season at UB, is trying to salvage what has been a rather uninspiring 2020 campaign. Last week, the Bulls dropped six-straight conference games for the first time since Legette-Jack came to UB. The Bulls are still in danger of having to play in a hostile road environment for the first round of the MAC tournament.
“It’s so crazy,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m so discombobulated. Like, what is going on? My husband says, ‘You’ve been spoiled. You took a team to the NCAA [tournament] last year, the Sweet Sixteen the year before, you’ve won some MAC championships.’ Even in our bad year, in 2017, we went 22-10.”
Legette-Jack has been looking for answers this season, but she hasn’t found many yet.
The team has only two seniors — forward Summer Hemphill and guard Theresa Onwuka — and two juniors — guard Hanna Hall and forward Marissa Hamilton. But Hemphill, the Big 4 Preseason Player of the Year, underwent knee surgery prior to the season.
So Legette-Jack has been forced to cater to a roster that includes seven sophomores and four freshmen.
“We have a young team, we have a young staff,” Legette-Jack said. “My top assistant left for LSU. We’re young everywhere.”
Legette-Jack is taking an unusual approach to helping her players, though. She is still holding 2.5-hour practices, an unusual step this late in the season.
“Most people would probably say you need to calm down and meet them where they are,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m coaching them harder. I’m demanding more, in preparation for next season. I really need them to understand the intricacies of what it takes to be a winner.”
For her part, Legette-Jack is focused on communicating with the team and stepping back from the action. She is taking a different approach than she did at the start of her coaching career at Hofstra University.
“Everything is in my head,” Legette-Jack said. “I have to regurgitate it, I have to share it. I don’t remember all the time. I took a day off last week. I have to figure this thing out. When you get quiet in your own space, you realize what you need to do. You have to coach them harder and you have to love them up.”
Freshman guard Dyaisha Fair, who ranks sixth in the nation at 20.9 points per-game, is leading the roster. But while that’s an impressive individual accolade, Legette-Jack thinks it’s the result of an unbalanced offensive attack.
“We need her to score 22 points per-game, in order to have a chance,” Legette-Jack said. “In order for us to even have a chance, she has to play 35 minutes and put the ball in the hole for us.”
Last Wednesday, the Bulls may have leaned on Fair a little too much. From the outset, it was clear she wasn’t getting her way. But she kept shooting, going 5-22 from the field, including 2-9 from beyond the arc.
Legette-Jack isn’t concerned about performances like Fair’s. She thinks it’s a part of the learning process, and that everything will eventually come together.
“I think they’re running around like a chicken without a head right now, but eventually the light is going to go on, and the same thing is going to happen that happened to the team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen — it wasn’t the most talented team, but it was a team we pounced on every day,” Legette-Jack said. “By the time they became seniors, it was a chess match, and everyone else was playing checkers.”
Legette-Jack, entering the month, was just four wins away from reaching 300 career victories. But then her team started to slide in the standings, and the wheels came off. She is now three wins away with four games remaining.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, Legette-Jack is optimistic about the future — not because the Bulls are the most talented team, but because they’re going to continue to work hard on the little things and keep getting better.
“I think it’s getting to be good right now,” Legette-Jack said about her team’s recent practices. “I’m feeling good about it. Is it going to result in a win? I hope so. But I think we’re not going to lose, because we’re going to learn.”
Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org