A confident and enthusiastic Becky Burke was introduced as the 13th head coach in UB women’s basketball history at Alumni Arena Friday.
Dressed in a blue blazer, Burke proclaimed her vision for a women’s basketball program coming off its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six years.
She acknowledged the challenges of following in Felisha Legette-Jack’s footsteps, whom she thanked for turning UB into a “premier destination for players across the country,” but she also tried to distance herself from her predecessor.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to get to that ultimate goal [of winning a Mid-American Conference Championship],” Burke said, with UB logos lining the backdrop behind her. “I’m going to tell you that this is not going to be the same [as Legette-Jack]. It’s going to be very, very different. But at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to win MAC Championships and to make sure that we sustain the level of success that’s been expected here.”
Burke compared her introduction ceremony Friday to the 2009 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship Game, when her coach at the time, Jeff Walz, told her team to stand at the edge of the tunnel and take 90 seconds to absorb the gravity of the moment.
She said the same thing happened to her as she was about to walk out of the Alumni Arena tunnel, into an adoring crowd of fans, community members, current players, dancers and marching band members.
Athletic Director Mark Alnutt said he understood during their first phone call that he shares the same vision as Burke. Just 12 hours after their initial conversation, he offered Burke the job.
“Being able to just hear through the phone: the energy, the passion, the plan, the vision for UB women’s basketball, [it all] impressed me,” Alnutt said.
Burke exuded confidence when talking about her vision, which she says centers around “sustaining that championship program with championship people who have championship habits.”
She says her ethos include being selfless on- and off-the-floor, serving others and being tough. “One word to describe Becky Burke and her teams is tough,” Burke said, referring to herself in the third person.
At one point during the press conference, Alnutt joked that Burke is so competitive, he was telling himself, “man, I’m trying to find a game that you and I can play that you’re not going to beat me in.” UB Athletics posted a video to social media earlier Friday showing Burke draining a three on the first try.
“[We wanted] someone that’s gonna roll up their sleeves, someone that embraces the mentality of this city,” Alnutt said. “[You] don’t need that Rolls Royce, you can have that Kia. Someone that is gonna roll up their sleeves and be that person that represents Buffalo.”
Burke says she and her staff — which she is in the process of assembling — is going to stress the importance of playing efficient, hard-nosed basketball — something she says will mirror the grittiness of the region her team represents.
Last season, Burke’s USC Upstate squad ranked No. 6 in the nation in field goal percentage, a mark of a disciplined and fundamentally-sound team.
“You’re going to watch a basketball team that is very, very organized, executes really, really well and is prepared,” Burke said. “So when you come watch us play, you’re going to understand we had a scouting report, we followed a game plan and they knew what they were doing out there.”
Before delving into her vision, Burke choked up while thanking her parents for everything they have done for her. “I want to make you proud standing up here as your daughter,” Burke said, her voice quavering.
Burke, a basketball lifer, says she started playing basketball with her father as a little girl in Scranton, PA. She turned those backyard sessions into a four-year playing career at Louisville, an assistant coaching position at Saint Joseph’s College and head coaching gigs at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University — where she was responsible for launching the program — the University of Charleston and USC Upstate.
She says the chance to come back to the region where everything began for her was too much to pass up on.
“I’m just a small-town kid from Scranton, PA, right down the road,” Burke said. “This will be the closest I’ve ever been to home. I’m very familiar with this region, I’m very familiar with the area from a recruiting standpoint.”
Last night, as she was boarding a plane to Buffalo, Burke says she introduced about 10 passengers to the UB women’s basketball program and made a number of “new fans.” She says she looks to keep that same energy going in the Queen City.
“I’m here because of the way that I felt at that airport gate last night,” Burke said. “I’m here because of the way I felt when Mark called me initially and because of the way I felt two hours [ago] this morning walking around this facility. This is a very, very special place. It’s proven to be that, and I’m just looking forward to making sure it stays that way.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.
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.