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St. Bonaventure women's preview: Jesse Fleming steps into big shoes

Team: St. Bonaventure

Affiliation: Atlantic 10 Conference

Coach: Jesse Fleming (first year)

2015-16 record: 24-8 (12-4, fourth)

There was no summer vacation for the man with the biggest shoes to fill in Western New York basketball.

New St. Bonaventure women’s basketball coach Jesse Fleming has been paddling fast since being hired May 26 to replace Jim Crowley, who left to take the Providence College job.

Fleming is replacing the winningest coach in women's basketball  history at the school, a man who led Bona to six post-season appearances in the last 10 years. And he’s replacing four starters and 65 percent of the scoring from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

“It doesn’t even feel like five months,” Fleming said. “It’s really neat because you’re running the program now and you’re doing what you want to do. So I wouldn’t call it work. It’s neat to do things the way you want to do it. I was able to hire some great people. The last five months -- a whirlwind is an understatement.”

This figured to be a rebuilding season even with Crowley. Bona is picked to finish 10th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference.

But the 33-year-old Fleming brings excellent credentials to the task. For one, his understanding of Bona runs deep. He a 2005 Bona graduate who spent his four undergraduate years as Crowley’s student manager then spent six years as an assistant coach under Crowley. Fleming spent the last four years as an aide at Bowling Green. He retained Crowley’s most veteran assistant coach, former Bona player Andrea Mulcahy.

Gabby RIchmond shoots aganst George Washington during overtime action at the Reilly Center on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Gabby Richmond averaged 5.3 points and 17.6 minutes a game last season (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

“This place is in my DNA,” he says.

Strengths: The lone returning starter is budding star Mariah Ruff. She’s a 5-foot-9 junior guard who was one of Crowley’s most prized recruits, the 2014 Miss New York Basketball. Ruff averaged 10.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.75 assists last season.

“She’s a hard-hat kid,” Fleming said. “The way she can get to the rim, she’s a great athlete, but a lot of it is just through effort and will. She’s just an attacker. There’s going to be times where we’re asking her to guard the other team’s best perimeter player. . . . Mariah kind of has to stuff the stat sheet. She’s got to rebound a little, have assists, be a playmaker.”

Bona will rely on 6-1 senior Gabby Richmond and 6-1 junior Matea Britvar to produce in bigger roles. Richmond averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 17.6 minutes a game. Britvar, “a stretch-4,” averaged 3.3 points in 15.9 minutes.

“The posts are the other people we’re playing through – Matea and Gabby,” Fleming said. “We’ve made it a point that the ball has to go through them. We’ve got to play inside out. We’re asking Matea and Gabby to play way bigger roles than in the past. They had to play complementary roles. Now it’s when we throw it to you guys on the block, we expect to have a pretty high finishing rate.”

Issues: Competing at point guard are freshman Jalisha Terry and senior Imani Outlaw. Terry was Michigan Class C player of the year. Outlaw averaged 10.5 minutes a game last year. They will try to continue the Crowley tradition of limiting turnovers.

Fleming acknowledges the depth is lean behind the post players, Richmond and Britvar, who must avoid foul trouble. “We kind of have a thin rotation there,” he said.

Sophomore wing Mckenna Maycock, the all-time leading scorer in Western New York prep history, averaged 6.8 minutes a game last year. That will double, at least.

“Our perimeter defense has looked pretty good,” Fleming said. “McKenna Maycock has defended pretty well. She’s an incredible energy player. She rebounds. She’s really done the dirty work for us in practice.”

St. Bonaventure's Mckenna Maycock. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

St. Bonaventure's Mckenna Maycock. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Look for Sarah Hart to contribute on the wing early and lead a band of freshmen that includes Rhianna Counci, Danielle Migliore and Sarah Young (Sacred Heart).

Inside the numbers: Defense needs to remain a Bona strength. Fleming was defensive coordinator at Bowling Green. Bona ranked second in the A10 in points allowed (56.1) and field goal percentage allowed (.360)

Schedule: Bona opens at Niagara Friday. It visits UB Dec. 21. St. Louis is picked to win the A10. Dayton and Duquesne tied for second in the preseason poll, followed by George Washington.

Outlook: Bona should get off to a decent start, because the non-conference schedule is not daunting. But the promising freshmen class probably will have to play more than Fleming would like. Twelve or 13 wins would be a good finish.

The schedule

Nov. 5 Edinboro, 50-25 (exh.)

Nov. 11 at Niagara 7 p.m.

Nov. 13 Colgate 1 p.m.

Nov. 16 Canisius 7 p.m.

Nov. 19 at Delaware 5 p.m.

Nov. 22 at Penn State 6 p.m.

Nov. 26 Austin Peay ^ 12 p.m.

Nov. 27 Rider ^ 12 p.m.

Nov. 30 Stony Brook 5:30 p.m.

Dec. 6 Bucknell 7 p.m.

Dec. 9 at Eastern Michigan 11 a.m.

Dec. 11 at Toledo 12 p.m.

Dec. 18 Albany 1 p.m.

Dec. 21 at Buffalo 12 p.m.

Dec. 28 Rhode Island * 4 p.m.

Dec. 31 at George Mason * TBA

Jan. 4 Dayton * 7 p.m.

Jan. 7 at Richmond * TBA

Jan. 11 at Saint Louis * 12 p.m.

Jan. 15 Fordham * 1 p.m.

Jan 19 at Massachusetts* TBA

Jan. 21 Duquesne * 4 p.m.

Jan. 25 Davidson * 7 p.m.

Jan. 29 at Saint Joseph’s * 3 p.m.

Feb. 4 at Fordham * TBA

Feb. 7 La Salle * 7 p.m.

Feb. 11 Saint Louis * 1 p.m.

Feb. 15 at George Washington * TBA

Feb. 18 VCU * 1 p.m.

Feb. 21 at Duquesne * 7 p.m.

Feb. 25-26 Atlantic 10 Tournament

Mar. 3-5 Atlantic 10 Tournament

*–Atlantic 10 Games

^–UCF Thanksgiving Classic

The roster

# Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Hometown High School

1 Keely Fresh G So. 5-8 Lexington, Va. Rockbridge County

2 Mariah Ruff G Jr. 5-9 Oneonta. Oneonta

3 Danielle Migliore G Fr. 5-7 Frankfort Frankfort-Schuyler

4 Jalisha Terry G Fr. 5-6 Flint, Mich. Hamady

10 Mckenna Maycock G So. 5-9 Randolph Randolph Central

14 Gabby Richmond F Gr. 6-1 Chicago Morgan Park

22 Imani Outlaw G Sr. 5-8 Cincinnati Sycamore

23 Matea Britvar F Jr. 6-1 Orlando, Fla. Dr. Phillips

32 Rhianna Council G Fr. 5-11 Durham, N.C Northern

33 Sarah Hart G Fr. 5-8 Elgin, Minn. Plainview-Elgin-Millville

45 Sarah Young F Fr. 6-2 Depew Sacred Heart Academy

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