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Wednesday, July 06, 2022
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Four questions surrounding UB basketball entering the offseason

The women’s team must replace its head coach, and the men’s may think about following suit

Freshman guard Georgia Woolley may be the next women's basketball player to enter the transfer portal following Felisha Legette-Jack's decision to leave to Syracuse.
Freshman guard Georgia Woolley may be the next women's basketball player to enter the transfer portal following Felisha Legette-Jack's decision to leave to Syracuse.

Now that both the women’s and men’s basketball seasons have come to an end, it’s an appropriate time to look toward the offseason.

While the men’s team disappointed and the women’s team excelled, each squad will be presented with its own set of challenges heading into the offseason.

Here are the biggest questions surrounding each program:

Who will coach the women’s basketball team next season?

On Saturday, UB lost head coach Felisha Legette-Jack to her alma mater, Syracuse University.

Legette-Jack, the greatest coach in program history, led the women’s team to three Mid-American Conference Championships and four NCAA Tournament berths in her 10 years at UB.

But now, with Legette-Jack gone, UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt is set to make his fifth head coaching hire in four years. Alnutt has hired basketball head coach Jim Whitesell, softball head coach Mike Ruechel, volleyball head coach Sean Smith and most recently, football head coach Maurice Linguist.

The Bulls have a strong internal candidate in assistant coach Kristen Sharkey, who just finished her seventh season on the UB coaching staff. Sharkey played under Legette-Jack at UB and led the team with 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during the 2014-15 season.

As Legette-Jack’s lead assistant, Sharkey has been a part of every MAC Championship and NCAA Tournament berth in program history. 

Perhaps Sharkey will follow in Legette-Jack’s footsteps by taking over at her own alma mater.

Is Georgia Woolley the next Bull to officially enter the transfer portal?

Junior guard Dyaisha Fair — UB’s best player and one of the best in all of college basketball — announced that she would enter the transfer portal Monday afternoon. The news came just two days after Legette-Jack accepted an offer to lead the Syracuse women’s basketball team.

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Now all eyes will be on the Bulls’ second-best player: freshman guard Georgia Woolley. The MAC Freshman of the Year averaged 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting 41.8% from the field, 30% from three-point range and 85.2% from the free-throw line in 34 games last season.

In addition to Fair, the Bulls’ roster took another hit when junior forward Loren Christie announced in an Instagram post Monday afternoon that she will seek a transfer.

Fair had formed a strong bond with Legette-Jack, and it seems Woolley formed a similar bond with her head coach in the matter of a year.

The next few weeks will determine whether Woolley follows in Fair’s footsteps or stays at UB.

How will men’s basketball replace its seniors?

With senior guard Ronaldo Segu (14.9 points, five assists per game) and senior forward Jeenathan Williams (19.1 points, five rebounds, 1.4 steals per game) forgoing their extra year of eligibility to prepare for the NBA Draft, UB will have some serious holes to fill next season.

And unless senior forward Josh Mballa (13 points, 8.6 rebounds per game) exercises his extra COVID-19 year, he’ll also be gone next season.

Add in a group of likely departing seniors that includes guard Maceo Jack, forwards Keishawn Brewton and Tra’von Fagan and center Brock Bertram, and it’s clear the Bulls will have an entirely new roster next season.

Freshman guard Curtis Jones did average 12.1 minutes per game in 28 games as Segu’s backup last season, including critical time down the stretch in UB’s 70-68 loss to Akron in the MAC quarterfinals.

But most of last year’s MAC-leading freshman class will have to step up next season, including forward Kuluel Mading and guard Kidtrell Blocker.

The Bulls relied on their experience for the past couple of seasons, but Whitesell’s squad will now have to lean on youthful energy for the 2022-23 campaign.

Is Jim Whitesell the right guy for the job?

When former men’s basketball coach Nate Oats accepted the head coaching job at the University of Alabama in March 2019, fans were gutted, but still had reason to hope.

The Bulls were coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances highlighted by major upsets over then-No. 4 seed Arizona and then-No. 11 seed Arizona State. On top of that, forward Jeenathan Williams and guard Ronaldo Segu — two of the three highest-ranked recruits in program history — were set to take on expanded roles following encouraging freshman seasons.

While UB lost one of college basketball’s premier coaches, the program was enjoying historic momentum. The foundation was set for Oats’ lead assistant, former Loyola Chicago head coach Jim Whitesell, to take over the reins and enjoy success.

But after experiencing a golden age under Oats, UB hasn’t found the same success under Whitesell.

Despite having secured two of the top-three recruiting classes in the MAC the past four seasons, the Bulls have never won the MAC Championship under their current head coach.

UB didn’t even make it past the first round of the MAC Tournament this season after falling to No. 4 seed Akron, a feeling far too familiar for a Bulls squad that suffered the same fate in 2020 with a first-round loss to then-No. 12 seed Miami (OH).

The Bulls did make a MAC Championship game and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) appearance in 2021, but those results don’t live up to the winning standard created by Whitesell’s two predecessors, Oats and Bobby Hurley.

Alnutt will have to have some serious conversations about Whitesell’s future if the Bulls don’t turn things around soon.

Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at anthony.decicco@ubspectrum.com and @DeCicco42 on Twitter


ANTHONY DECICCO
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Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor at 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. 

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