The UB women’s basketball team is less than a week away from starting its long awaited 2020-21 season. UB will play Gannon University, a tough Division II program, in an exhibition game on Nov. 25 at home to get the season rolling.
In her ninth season as UB’s head coach, Felisha Legette-Jack has seen it all, but nothing quite like the regulations required to play during the COVID pandemic.
“We wear our masks everywhere we go, we [use] hand sanitizer as often as we can in practice and spray the balls down,” said Legette-Jack. “The first conscious thought is safety, every single day.”
Legette-Jack says her role this year is more than just being a coach, but taking on a motherly role to ensure her players are safe while traveling.
“I am the person going into those hotel rooms and spraying Lysol, as I would if it were my own son,” Legette-Jack said. “These parents trust me with their children, and I’m going to conduct myself as such. It’s up to me to give it my best effort and I promised these parents I will.”
Adjusting to new norms and routines is something all players will have to go through. That is nothing new for sophomore guard and last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year Dyaisha Fair, as last season was full of new experiences. She doesn’t expect this season to be any different.
“It’s been a roller coaster, there have been so many things thrown at me and I just have to be ready,” Fair said.
She also said that although classes and workouts are handled differently in the midst of the pandemic, the teams’ work ethic and determination have not changed. Fair says, like any player of Legette-Jack’s would, “our goal as a team is to be a team that will defend.”
Legette-Jack backed that statement up by saying “Always, always, always. [UB] will defend you till the bus.”
After its exhibition game, UB will kick-off its official season on the road with a stretch of non-conference matchups. The Bulls will travel to Harrisonburg, VA to take on James Madison on Nov. 30, and will then travel just over 100 miles south of Harrisonburg to take on VCU on Dec. 3. UB will then play away at Canisius Dec. 6, then at Purdue Dec. 9 before returning home to play St. Bonaventure on Dec. 19.
It won’t be until three days before Christmas that UB begins conference play against Western Michigan at home on Dec. 22.
When the Bulls first take the floor this season, fans will recognize a familiar face; senior forward Summer Hemphill will take to the court after being sidelined last season due to injury.
Before her injury, Hemphill averaged career highs in minutes, points and rebounds, logging 36.6 minutes while scoring 14.5 points and grabbing 10.3 boards per game.
“Summer is a double-double. She is a talent that’s been on the sideline for a year. And just the few practices she’s been in, she has changed the trajectory of how the basketball court should look,” Legette-Jack said. When thinking about having Hemphill back this season, Legette-Jack says, “I just start smiling, [with Hemphill] we got a better chance.”
Hemphill says although she was injured, the team never left her behind.
“Even though I was slow and on crutches and at times couldn't keep up with them, they stayed back and waited for me. They never made me feel like I wasn't on the team,” Hemphill said.
Besides scoring and rebounding, Hemphill says being a captain and upperclassmen on the team, especially in trying times like these, she has to remain vocal and give the team courage.
“I want to use my voice to just talk to underclassmen and let them see things that they may not see while being on the court,” Hemphill said. “Letting them know that they're capable of being and doing whatever they put their minds to.”
The Bulls are poised to make a run at the MAC championship. Being led by players like Hemphill, second year standout Fair and senior guard Hannah Hall, the Bulls are more than capable of continuing its winning ways. Fair, who was fourth in the country in scoring last year as a true freshman at 22.2 points a game, wants to continue to be a threat on offense but wants to “balance her numbers” and become “more efficient.”
“[Last season] was my first year and I was getting a feel for everything and going with the flow. But to get closer to what I want to be after this I need to be more efficient,” Fair said. “I need my shooting percentages to go up, my assists to go up and my turnovers to go down.”
Although Fair and Hemphill want to win games this season, Legette-Jack wants her players to “win in their minds, win with hope and win with love.”
“We’re not going to look at the negative at all, especially where we have come from with this pandemic, racial divide and presidential election stuff. We are just going to be excited about being together,” said Legette-Jack. “No one is going to take our joy away this season, it's about the journey we are going to be on. It’s about us.”
Robby Salisbury is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalisburyRobby