There’s usually at least a little rebuilding to be done when a basketball team wins a conference championship. A top scorer graduates. New leaders need to step up. The team chemistry must be rebuilt.
Not so with the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team, which went to the NCAA Tournament in March with a roster that included 11 freshmen or sophomores. The top six scorers all are back.
An offseason of stability got even more stable this week when Legette-Jack signed a new five-year contract that runs through the 2020-21 season.
Legette-Jack has been spending the offseason extolling the virtues of her program to supporters and recruits.
“We have great academics; we have a great community,” she said after signing her new deal. “The people here are sports nuts. Now we can say Buffalo women’s basketball is a destination. If you want to be great, and you want to win a championship. This is a place you can come and get it done. We’ve proven we can do that now.”
UB won eight of its last 10 en route to the Mid-American Conference title victory over Central Michigan. Legette-Jack sees team chemistry, more than any personnel strength, as being the team’s biggest asset.
“This will be my 28th year, and it seemed to be the right group,” Legette-Jack said. “I had a top-20 recruiting class at Indiana. We were fired. What seems to be on paper doesn’t necessarily mean anything. One thing that’s true with this team: Every one of our players believes in me, and I believe in them. I have a loyal staff that’s committed to growing this program. Whatever comes what may. I know I thoroughly enjoy coming to the office every day and working with these people because I’ve been around so much other stuff. This group here is going to give 100 percent, everything they have. We have good talent coming in that is humble and hungry, as well.”
While UB finished 20-14, it had only the No. 8 seed in the MAC and went 8-10 in the conference. That record is a bit deceiving, because the Bulls got a ton better as the season progressed. They did not look or play like a No. 8 seed, as Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara said after UB beat her team on a last-second shot for the title.
Nevertheless, one area in which UB needs to improve is outside shooting. The Bulls ranked 11th in field-goal percentage and eighth in three-point percentage in the MAC.
Returning all-MAC guard Joanna Smith made 100 threes, third best in the conference. After her, UB got 24 threes from freshman Gabi Bade, 23 from point guard Stephanie Reid and 21 apiece from wings Katherine Ups and Courtney Wilkins.
Where does Legette-Jack see improvement on the perimeter?
“I think Liisa Ups can really emerge,” Legette-Jack said of the sophomore twin sister of Katherine Ups. “I think she’s a lot better shooter than she displayed this year. So we’re looking for her to get better and give us some help. Katherine Ups showed she can shoot the ball and hit threes we needed to get to the NCAAs. We need her to take those shots and make those shots. She can shoot it.”
“Courtney Wilkins is a phenomenal shooter,” Legette-Jack said. “She struggled a little, then was finally getting comfortable. But she didn’t know she had two stress fractures in her foot – in the same bone. She didn’t tell anybody because she wanted to play. Getting her healthy will help. She’s confident now. I expect more from her. Stephanie has to be able to hit that three game a little bit better. And Mariah Suchan displayed some aggression on offense.”
Wilkins hit the long three-pointer off a set, full-court play at the end of the first half in the win over Central Michigan. She’s recovering from her foot injury and will be fine for next season.
Bottom line: UB has plenty of perimeter options, and all of them are still in the early stages of their college development.
Meanwhile, UB has three incoming recruits and three players leaving the program.
Legette-Jack said freshman center Mirte Scheper has decided to give up college basketball and return to her home in the Netherlands. She averaged 2.1 points and 13 minutes a game. Junior Camera Miley, who averaged seven minutes a game, is transferring to Division II Bridgeport. Freshman Tamara Brcina, who played in two games, also is transferring.
“We had three kids who decided not to return but we left on great terms and in every function we had they were a part of it,” Legette-Jack said.
UB landed a significant transfer in Cierra Dillard, who averaged 15.5 ppg for Massachusetts last season. She will sit out in 2016-17. Incoming freshmen are first-team All-Western New York forward Summer Hemphill of Cardinal O’Hara and guard Theresa Onwuka of Illinois.