Women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has watched her team’s highs and lows firsthand.
From a five-game winning streak that included four conference victories, to a frustrating six-game win-loss pattern that saw her squad struggle to find consistency, the ninth-year coach tries to be even-keeled during the season.
Legette-Jack makes it a point of taking on challenges day-by-day, instead of looking far ahead, even if it means taking one shootaround, or even one interval of play, at a time.
“All that matters is today,” Legette-Jack said in a phone interview with The Spectrum. “Tomorrow we get blessed with shootaround, all that matters is the shoot around. Then the game goes up and all that matters [is] the first five minutes.”
This mentality has served the 11-6 Bulls well so far this season, but sometimes Legette-Jack and her staff have to look at the big picture when it comes to different parts of the team.
And the most concerning aspect of the team this season has been injuries.
After redshirting the 2019-20 season due to a knee injury that required surgery, senior forward Summer Hemphill suffered another injury to the same knee and was forced to return to the injured list just two games into the 2020-21 campaign.
The preseason second-team All-MAC selectee’s injury was a huge hit to the Bulls on and off the court.
“It’s a challenge, she’s such a competitor,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s top-20 [nationally] at her position. And for her to sit out two years in a row, this is the most injuries we’ve had the last few years of my career here.”
Hemphill’s injury wasn’t quite as serious the second time, as she has since returned to practice. But Legette-Jack still expects Hemphill to play limited minutes down the stretch and says she is taking a precautionary approach to her star player.
“We just want to encourage Summer to stay locked in and go as far as that knee will allow her to go,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s practicing a little bit now and we’re hoping we can get her out there in the next couple of games to be effective and help us, five minutes here, five minutes there.”
Hemphill isn’t the only banged-up member of the team.
Hemphill’s backup, sophomore Loren Christie, apparently injured her knee during a Jan. 13 game against Bowling Green, which was another blow to the Bulls’ frontcourt depth. This forced Legette-Jack and the coaching staff to reconsider what they are doing when it comes to the health and conditioning of their players.
”I’m looking at what we’re doing at the medical side of it and what we’re doing in the conditioning side of it, because we haven’t done anything different in the basketball side of it. We’ve got to figure this thing out,” Legette-Jack said.
UB’s injury woes haven’t only affected the Bulls on the court.
Guard Hanna Hall is the only senior on the active roster. She has been tasked with leading a group of eight underclassmen, a daunting job. But Legette-Jack says that despite the lack of senior leadership, the adversity the team is facing has brought a new sense of fire and grit, something she thinks will only help them in the long run.
“Hanna’s doing a great job of helping us with that because she’s the only senior out there right now until Summer gets back in,” Legette-Jack said. “But I like what our players are trying to do, it’s a fight for sure but it is what it is. I love the fact that these kids are so open to learning, growing and becoming.”
While her team’s inexperience can be a challenge, it also a great opportunity for her underclassmen to take the next step.
Freshman guard Cheyenne McEvans has made the most of her time on the floor, averaging 10 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. McEvans is averaging 29.5 minutes per game, which is tied for second on the team and demonstrates that she’s earned the trust of the coaching staff.
McEvans showcases her athleticism on the boards and plays the game at her own pace, which sets her apart from the typical freshman, Legette-Jack says. While already a key contributor to a winning team, the Southfield, MI native has the physical and mental intangibles to be a future star.
“Cheyenne’s ability to rebound the ball is incredible and her leaping ability is second to none. She’s just an incredible teammate,” Legette-Jack said. “I call her grandma, she plays the game in slow motion. Once she understands what’s going on with the team she’s like an elephant, she has a great memory.”
The freshman has also impressed Legette-Jack on the defensive end, serving as the team’s leader when it comes to deciphering man-to-man or zone defenses. The communication and intensity McEvans brings on defense has her in rare territory for a freshman.
“She’s getting closer to becoming the defensive captain on our team, not there yet because she still questions and is not certain a lot. But this is the quickest I’ve ever thought about having that title presented to a player in her freshman year,” Legette-Jack said.
While McEvans might be the team’s leader on defense, sophomore guard Dyaisha Fair is the unquestioned leader on offense.
Fair ranks seventh in the nation at 24.3 points per game, but it’s her passing that has impressed Legette-Jack the most this season.
At 5.3 assists per game, Fair ranks top-30 nationally.
Legette-Jack says this makes her a more complete offensive threat.
“Her ability to share the ball is something that’s really come a long way,” Legette-Jack said. “Being able to give that ball to somebody else and expect success has been a positive on her end.”
Fair knows she has the green light to shoot whenever she has the ball, but Legette-Jack says that knowing her teammates will capitalize when she gives them the opportunity has made her a better distributor.
“It’s not yellow, it’s all green for any shot she thinks she can take,” Legette-Jack said. “If she can put that ball in somebody else’s hands we can still be effective as well. Our guards now are really showing that they’re going to be efficient with that and she’s trusting more to give that ball away when she doesn’t think she can make it happen herself.”
The Bulls are 11-6 with six games remaining, so contests down the stretch are imperative to the team’s potential postseason run. One poor series of performances can be the difference between making a run at a championship or heading home early.
Legette-Jack knows how vital the next six games are, but she also knows her team must focus on taking everything one day at a time.
“If we can continue to have our [players] stay incrementally involved in the moment, I think we’re a pretty special team,” Legette-Jack said. “But if you brought it up and say ‘we gotta win all six of these games,’ that’s too much for a team. Then their youthfulness will come in, panic will set in.”
Legette-Jack has emphasized appreciating every moment her team gets to step onto the court, which has forced the Bulls to stay in the moment and play for now, not the next game.
“I try to make it about the microcosm of life, you can’t worry about three weeks from now because you may not make it. I was teasing one of my players, you don’t know, you can walk off a curb and die. You don’t know what tomorrow brings,” Legette-Jack said. “What you gotta do is seize the moment, the moment is right now and we live in the moment.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.