LEWISTON – Jada Pierce never has been a Division I head coach, but the new leader of the Niagara University women’s basketball program has no doubt that 18 years in the business have prepared her for the job with the Purple Eagles.
“I’ve been ready,” Pierce said Wednesday upon being introduced as Niagara’s head coach. “I’ve been an assistant coach in name only, I feel, the last three or four years. I know I’ve been ready to take over a program for at least that long.
“I want to thank God, because He’s definitely given me the patience to endure this journey I’ve been on the last 18 years,” said the 41-year-old Pierce.
Pierce spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Saint Joseph’s, helping the Hawks go 59-36 and make two NCAA Tournament appearances. Before that she worked two years for highly respected Army coach Dave Magarity. Along the way she got to the NCAA Tournament with Marist, helped UMass-Lowell go to the Division II tournament and helped Delaware go 47-13 over two seasons.
“St. Joe’s coach Cindy Griffin told me within two seconds of talking to her that Jada wins everywhere she goes,” said Simon Gray, Niagara athletics director. “So we can’t wait to be hanging banners and distributing rings from the championships that Jada brings us. She’s done it as a student-athlete and she’s done it as a coach. She’s clearly a winner.”
Pierce’s lone head-coaching gig came from 2004 to 2006 at Division II Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, where she resigned after back-to-back 4-23 seasons.
“What I took away from it,” Pierce said of the Cheyney job, “was don’t ever work somewhere where your boss says they’re going to step down. Someone hires you and then a new person comes in. … I think I learned I need to be more choosy about where I’m going to take over a program.”
Pierce takes over a Niagara program that has had 10 straight losing seasons. However, the Purple Eagles have mostly been middle-of-the-pack of late in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, finishing sixth, seventh, fifth and fifth the last four years. Kendra Faustin left in May after eight seasons to coach Division II Ferris State.
Pierce knows what it takes to win in the MAAC, having worked at Marist. While Niagara returns just three of its top eight scorers from last year, one of those is all-MAAC junior forward Victoria Rampado.
“I felt this was a great situation because they’re academic first,” Pierce said of Niagara. “You have one of the best players in the conference on the team in Victoria. And there’s a lot of good pieces of players who have played. I know a lot was lost to graduation, but I still feel there are players here that maybe didn’t get a chance to play as much but they’re really talented.”
Pierce was a star guard out of Philadelphia who played at Division II West Chester. Her philosophy?
“You can expect an exciting style of play, up tempo,” she said. “We will be known for our stingy defense, whether it be full-court man or trapping zones. We want to continue the tradition of the Gallagher Center being one of the toughest places to play in the conference.”
Gray said he thinks Pierce has the kind of powerful personality to build a winner. “When Jada’s former student-athletes reached out to us, they weren’t good, they were exceptional,” he said. “The impact she’s had on the lives of her former student-athletes goes well beyond their college careers.”
Pierce said she will retain assistant coach Erika Harris, and she has two other aides lined up. Niagara has 12 players on scholarship, leaving three openings.
Meanwhile at Niagara, there was no official word on the status of men’s basketball player Dominique Reid, who is facing three felony charges, all related to financial dealings. Gray said the school would make a statement soon.
Reid was arrested in mid-April by Niagara County Sheriff’s Department investigators on charges of second-degree identity theft and fourth-degree grand larceny, both felonies. He made fraudulent use of banking information to pay personal bills, police said.
Reid previously was arrested in mid-December by the Sheriff’s Department on a felony charge of fourth-degree grand larceny. That was a result of a fraud complaint made by First Niagara Bank. Reid played the entire season for Niagara.
Asked if Niagara knew about the mid-December felony charge when it occurred, Gray said: “We were aware of the arrest. So the decisions we made were based on the facts that we had at hand. And I will say, a lot more facts have come to light after the season.”