University at Buffalo senior guard JoAnna Smith was named the preseason women’s Big 4 player of the year Wednesday.
Smith averaged 18.3 ppg in leading UB to a 20-14 record and an NCAA Tournament berth. She was a first-team pick in the Mid-American Conference.
The other members of the Big 4 women’s first team were: Bona guard Mariah Ruff, UB guard Stephanie Reid, Niagara forward Victoria Rampado and Canisius forward Margret Halfdanardottir.
On the women’s second team were: UB forward Brittany Morrison, UB center Cassie Oursler, Canisius forward Maria Welch, Niagara forward Kaylee Stoemple and St. Bonaventure forward Gabby Richmond.
UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack on Smith: “Her character and her academics are bigger than her basketball. But you put it all together, and this is a special kid and I want to savor every minute we have with her this year.”
Big 4 women’s updates:
UB’s SU connection: UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack scored a recruiting coup when she signed 6-foot-3 freshman Lawrencia Moten in early August. Moten is the daughter of Lawrence Moten, who starred at Syracuse from 1991 to ’95 and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Bowie, Md., native was rated as a three-star recruit by ESPN but missed her whole senior year due to a torn knee ligament.
Legette-Jack, who starred for Syracuse in the 1980s, was an Orange assistant coach when Lawrence Moten was at the school. Lawrencia Moten was considering going to a prep school for a year but was sold on the UB program.
“I liked her, and I thought she was over our head early,” Legette-Jack said. “I thought, God if there was ever a situation where we could have a chance on this kid that would be great for us. She blew her knee out, and the Illinois’ and Syracuses got out of the game. Lawrence loved the way I used to coach as an assistant. He felt I didn’t waver from my focus and intensity. He thought that’s what his daughter needed.”
UB is defending champion in the Mid-American Conference and has a deep team. But Legette-Jack thinks Moten has a chance to contribute as a freshman.
Top WNYer at UB: Legette-Jack also is high on freshman recruit Summer Hemphill, the 6-1 All-Western New York star from O’Hara High. Hemphill has the athleticism to be used in a situational role at the top of UB’s press.
“We have three freshmen who are going to be pretty good,” Legette-Jack said. “Lawrencia Moten is going to play, and also Theresa Onwuka is that 3-guard who’s the fastest thing on two legs. She’s a southpaw who runs the floor well. Summer runs the floor like a deer. Whenever she doesn’t get the rebound, she already understands the rim-run situation. She can catch in traffic.”
Key Eagle returnee: The big development for Niagara’s women is the return of star forward Victoria Rampado. The 6-2 red-shirt junior missed virtually all of last season with a shoulder injury. She was a second-team all-conference pick in 2014 after averaging 14 points and six rebounds.
Griffs on point: The improvisational ability of Canisius coach Terry Zeh was tested last season when he lost both starting senior point guard Tiahana Mills and No. 2 point guard Tamara Miskovic to season-ending knee injuries. In fact, Canisius lost three of its four returning starters to injuries last year. The Griff played without a true point guard the last 10 games.
What’s the plan this year? Miskovic is returning to health.
“She’ll be back playing by the time we start games,” Zeh said. “I’m not sure how many minutes. I think maybe by league play you’ll start to see her be really comfortable.”
Zeh recruited freshman point guard Anna Sweny from Erie, Pa. She will have a shot to contribute right away.
“I think it falls to her a little bit, depending on how she adjusts,” Zeh said. “She comes from a great high school program. They were seventh in the country last year. If she’s not ready right away we’ll do what we did last year and play without one – by committee.”
Presuming Sweny can contribute some, Canisius’ committee should be OK until Miskovic is fully ready. Halfdanardottir, Welch, Lauren D’Hont shared the duties late last season.