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Bona fills women’s hoops vacancy with one of its own

St. Bonaventure is staying “within the family” for its new women’s basketball coach.

The Bonnies have picked Bona graduate and Bowling Green assistant coach Jesse Fleming to succeed Jim Crowley, who ended an outstanding 16-year run to take the job at Providence College.

Fleming arguably was the leading candidate entering the search. He spent six years as an assistant to Crowley, from 2005-06 to the 2010-11 seasons. He then went to Stony Brook for one year before moving to Bowling Green, where he worked the past four years. He was promoted to associate head coach a year ago. Fleming held the title of associate head coach in his final season under Crowley. He is a 2005 graduate of St. Bonaventure.

“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Jesse back to St. Bonaventure,” said Bona Athletic Director Tim Kenney. “His experience and passion for our program make him a natural fit. Jesse is a strong recruiter, tremendous basketball mind and someone who will inspire our players, fans and alumni. We look forward to watching Jesse and his staff build upon the success of our women’s basketball program.”

Fleming becomes Bona’s seventh women’s head coach and takes over a program that went 24-8 this season and went to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past five years.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Fleming said. “I am so excited to carry on the great tradition of St. Bonaventure women’s basketball. We can’t wait to get started.”

Fleming never has been a head coach. However, he was intimately involved in the rise of the Bona program under Crowley. Fleming, who like Crowley is a native of the Binghamton area, was Crowley’s team manager for four years as an undergraduate. Bona went 9-18 in Fleming’s first year as a full-time assistant, and then the program took off, winning 16, 18 and 23 games the next three seasons. Crowley’s teams went 205-117 over the past 10 seasons and had 20 or more wins six of the last eight years. Fleming is from Guilford.

The Bowling Green program has enjoyed long-term success and was a big winner Fleming’s first two years there, posting records of 24-11 and 30-5. The team has struggled the past two years, going 9-21 and 10-18. Fleming served as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator. Bowling Green set a school record his first season by allowing only 54.5 points a game. In 2014 Fleming was rated 20th in the nation among assistant coaches by Felicia Hall & Associates, a North Carolina-based consulting and sports marketing firm.

Fleming inherits a team that has brought in strong recent recruiting classes, including four well-regarded players for the fall. But Bona loses its two top players. Senior star and leading Katie Healy graduated. No. 2 scorer Miranda Drummond, a sophomore forward, announced this week she will transfer. That’s an unplanned departure for Bona, and whether she winds up with Crowley at Providence remains to be seen. Healy averaged 15.3 ppg, Drummond 12.3. The top returning scorer is sophomore guard Mariah Ruff, the first Miss New York Basketball ever recruited to Bona.

Top Bona assistant Andrea Mulcahy is remaining on staff. A 2010 graduate, she played under Fleming and spent the past four years as an aide to Crowley.