College coaches are notoriously confident.
But Becky Burke, UB’s first-year women’s basketball head coach, may be the most confident coach to ever grace the Alumni Arena floor.
The 13th head coach in UB women’s basketball history has immense confidence and major aspirations. She’s not even letting the successes of her predecessor, Felisha Legette-Jack, phase her.
“If [UB] won for 20 straight years or lost for 20 straight years, I still expect to win every single time we step on the floor,” Burke told The Spectrum in an interview last week.
The Louisville alum is a warrior on the court, and has made sure everybody knows it.
Burke’s sky-high expectations come just one year after UB made its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, a feat achieved by an almost completely different lineup.
Last season, UB’s squad went 25-9, won the Mid-American Conference Championship and made it to the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Today, UB finds itself in deep waters following Legette-Jack’s departure. Junior guard Dyaisha Fair, freshman guard Georgia Woolley, sophomore guard Cheyenne McEvans and freshman forward Saniaa Wilson have all followed Legette-Jack to Syracuse this offseason. And major contributors Adebola Adeyeye (Kentucky) and Loren Christie (San Francisco) also left via the transfer portal.
Despite the obstacles standing in her way, Burke refuses to waver in her confidence.
Irrespective of uncertainty and the clean slate women’s basketball has undergone, one thing is for certain: the team is going full throttle into the upcoming season.
‘She’s a freight train’
“My style is high energy. Intense. Fiery,” Burke said.
UB’s new head coach is bursting from head-to-toe with passion, energy and enthusiasm for the game.
“She’s a freight train,” assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Wyatt Foust said. “She’s going, and she’s going hard. She’s excited, and she’s not slowing down.”
Burke shows spirit on- and off-the-court, and is turning the offseason into an arena of rallying and camaraderie. But returning the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament will require a lot more than just ambition and tenacity. It will also require execution.
The 2022 Big South Coach of the Year certainly isn’t afraid of the hard work she will need to put in to accomplish that task. And she expects her players to mirror her work ethic.
“I’m gonna do my best every single day,” Burke said. “I’m gonna work my butt off. [It’s about] holding them accountable to everything that you expect. Every single day. Without question, without hesitation.”
Her expectations are crystal clear.
Her athletes have a responsibility to show up and show out in games and practices.
This caliber isn’t just for her athletes either, as Burke expects her recent hires — Foust, Candyce Wheeler and Asia Dozier — to step up as well.
“I wanted people that were going to be here that can relate to our players, that have played the game at the highest level,” Burke said.
Burke holds herself to that standard, leveling her intense dynamism with a keen attention to detail — which results in a balance of “efficient offense and gritty, aggressive defense,” Foust said.
“If you’re a great defensive team and your offense is bad, you’re just gonna be average,” he said. “If you’re a great offensive team and your defense is bad, you’re still gonna be average.”
The pair are focused and tapped into exactly what it’s going to take to keep up UB’s success.
“It’s not the standard here at UB anymore just to make the tournament, it’s to make the tournament and win some games in the tournament,” Burke said.
‘Culture of winning’
Burke looks to sustain the “culture of winning” women’s basketball has enjoyed in recent years, Foust says.
So far, Burke has been training her roster with 25-minute workouts focused on-the-court and in the weight rooms — limbering her athletes up for the June preseason.
“We’re working out every single day until May 10,” fifth-year guard (and returning Bull) Jazmine Young said about the Bulls’ new training regiments.
“I think we definitely can push for the Sweet 16 and make a push for the Elite Eight as well,” Young said.
In order for the Bulls to continue their dominance, they will need to fill glaring holes in their roster. Burke hopes to utilize the transfer portal, where she has already brought in a number of skilled defenders.
“Defense is mainly what [Coach Burke] talks about,” Young said. This emphasis on the defensive end has been evident with the addition of fifth-year guards Latrice Perkins, Re’Shawna Stone, Zakiyah Winfield and redshirt junior guard Chellia Watson.
Yet serious gaps still remain.
UB has only been able to secure two forwards so far.
While UB still has glaring holes to fill, it’s not the only program scrambling to complete its roster with the remaining athletes on the portal.
“It’s going to be as good as we can make it for this first year,” Burke said. “You gotta do your homework. We don’t just throw a bunch of talent together, we want to find a group that’ll represent UB well.”
Burke flipped the coaching staff on its head, bringing in an entirely new group of assistants from the previous year. Foust, Wheeler and Dozier have stepped in to replace Kristen Sharkey, Khyreed Carter and Blair Estarfaa on the bench.
“It’s hard when the coaching staff changes — it’s a transition. It’s uncertain, it’s heavy,” Burke said.
Tasked with gelling the new and old together, these staff-to-player and player-to-player bonds are always in Burke’s field of vision.
“[Coach Burke’s] made it very easy [for us] to adjust to and [be] very comfortable. She always reminds us that we’re still her players. She always reminds us that she’s gonna treat us as her own,” Young said.
“[The] challenge is making sure we just connect all the pieces,” Foust said about merging all these moving parts into a whole.
Despite all the change and upheaval, a standard remains.
“We’re coming in and setting a tone right away, setting a standard, establishing our culture,” Burke said.
‘I’m not her’
Burke gets uncomfortable when people compare her to her predecessor.
No matter how many records Legette-Jack broke or nets her teams cut down, Burke simply does not seem to care.
“I’m not going to be her. I’m not gonna try to be her,” Burke said.
Foust says Burke is fueled by her “short-term memory.” She’s here for one reason and one reason only: to win. Not to live in the past.
“You feel like a million bucks one day and then you feel like five cents the next. It’s how you handle those highs, how you handle those lows and keeping an even keel,” Burke said about the importance of level-headedness in her profession.
But no one can ignore the huge shoes she has to fill.
Legette-Jack coached UB for 10 seasons from 2012 to 2022 and guided the Bulls to their first NCAA Tournament in program history in 2016.
Burke’s predecessor is the all-time winningest coach in program history, with a 177-107 record. Her accolades are far and wide, and would be daunting to anyone stepping up to fill her place.
But Burke remains unfazed.
“I don’t think it’s any pressure. I hold myself to a standard that nobody else can make me feel pressured,” Burke said.
But not everyone on her staff has this same take.
“You’d be lying if you say there’s no pressure, but pressure is a privilege,” Foust said. “I’d much rather have the target on my back, than just surprise people with what you do.”
This confidence is backed by the pair’s coaching and playing résumés, but the bar may still be set too high for this seemingly makeshift team.
“I’m not even going to talk about [losing] because I don’t expect that to be the case. I don’t even think about that,” Burke said.
Only time will tell if this resolute confidence will bring more MAC wins and continue UB’s winning tradition, or if they’re just empty words.
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. She is a history major studying abroad for a year from Newcastle University in the UK. In her spare time, she can be found blasting The 1975 or Taylor Swift and rowing on a random river at 5 a.m.