COLUMBUS – Her decision was driven by family.
Cassie Oursler was unhappy with her situation as a freshman at Robert Morris. When her sister had a health scare, that was the tipping point. Oursler needed to be back in Western New York.
She found a home with the University at Buffalo, and with her mind at ease, discovered a new level to her game.
The junior center has started the last nine games for the Bulls and figures to be on the court for the opening tip Friday afternoon when Buffalo meets Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
During the four-game run in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, Oursler averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and set the screen for Stephanie Reid’s game-winning shot in the title game.
Her journey to UB took a detour through Pittsburgh. The former Grand Island standout and All-Western New York Player of the Year in 2013 went to Robert Morris to play for Buffalo native Sal Buscaglia.
But Oursler didn’t feel she was improving as a post player.
Then her 6-year-old sister, Layla, was hospitalized with seizures and everything became clear.
“It wasn’t too serious but she’s like my best friend so when something happened to her it was just like, I have to be closer to home,” Oursler said. “It just was the last straw that made me realize I wanted to go closer to home.”
Oursler said talking with Buscaglia about her decision to transfer was “really tough. He was real tough on me and I didn’t feel myself getting better. I wasn’t really happy, so it was tough talking to him. It was a very long meeting and it was very stressful, but I had my decision up in my head and I wasn’t going to change, so I just had to stick with what I knew was best with me. I stuck with it and it worked out.”
She transferred mid-academic year and NCAA rules required her to sit for two semesters. She was eligible Dec. 29 and has established herself as a solid post player who is adding range to her game.
She breaks into a huge smile when talking about her newly developed outside shot.
“In high school, I got the ball, I turned and scored,” Oursler said. “I got the ball, I turned and scored. That’s really all. Now I play with a bunch of talented girls, so I had to learn passing back out and different strong post moves and reading where the defender is. And I have an outside shot now which I never had before – short corner and the high post, which is awesome. I’m excited about that.”
Oursler credits UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack with transforming her game, but the coach gives credit to former Bull and current assistant Kristen Sharkey, who has put in hours teaching Oursler the finer points of being a post player.
“A lot of times people think just because you’re tall means you’re a post player and that’s not necessarily what it means at all,” Sharkey said. “Being a post player is all about angles and using your body and getting low and not standing tall but getting low and getting position on the block. The way you position yourself to get a good passing lane for your guards is something she’s really starting to get the hang of.”
Oursler loves talking about the subtle things that create a good post player. What she loves even more is that her family is close enough to watch her play.
“It’s convenient because my dad, he’s a single parent, so he has four of us and it’s just easier,” Oursler said. “It’s a 20-minute trip for him to come see me play, which has always been a real big deal to me. So the fact that they get to come to every game that’s really special.
She said her father, Christopher, brother Joshua and sisters Miranda and Layla will make the trip to Columbus to watch her represent Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament.
And likely what they will find is what Legette-Jack saw from the moment Oursler transferred – a passionate player for whom basketball is more than just a game.
“One thing we loved about Cassandra is when she came in, she has it in her belly,” Legette-Jack said. “She has a fire in her belly. She certainly wants to play basketball to a level of excellence where she can actually help support her family and that’s something that we love. We love for someone to play basketball for something other than the game.
“When she came to us, she said she wanted to play and learn how to be a great post player not a good post player … to me she is a WNBA kind of player but right now we have a long way to go. She’s going to continue to work on catching and relaxing. She wants it so badly that every time she gets the ball it’s like a hot tamale. She just throws it in the air. We’re teaching her patience and what she’s teaching me is patience, too, because I want her to get it as much as she wants to get it. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”