TALLAHASSEE – The sisterhood. You can't talk with the University at Buffalo women's basketball team without a reference to "the sisterhood." It's their identity. It's the reason for their success.
At first, senior Stephanie Reid wondered why it was so important. Starting in June, head coach Felisha Legette-Jack kept hammering the message that the Bulls needed to become a sisterhood.
"I think coach just stressed it for a while to the point that it sometimes felt like she was forcing it and you wondered why. Why do you care so much?" Reid said.
Now, she gets it.
It clicked about midway through the season, this concept of sisterhood. And it's a big part of the reason why UB is in this position – having earned first at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. As the No. 11 seed the Bulls will face No. 6 South Florida at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tucker Civic Center.
"It's 14 people in one foxhole as coach says it," Reid said. "And that just means we all buy in together. We have each other's back. We're there for each other. We have ups and downs. We're sisters. There's not going to be everyone getting along all the time, but for the most part everyone has each other's back and we just all love each other deeply. It's really like a sister relationship. We might not get along but we're going to have each other's best interest at heart."
That's exactly the place where Legette-Jack wanted her team to be. Through the course of a college basketball season, the dynamic won't be one of all love all the time. Fights will happen. Disagreements will arise.
But just like sisters, Legette-Jack wanted her team to rise above the daily grind. You may fight it out in the locker room, she said, but outside the locker room no one is allowed to disrespect your sister.
"If you're my sister and you steal my clothes, I might be so mad at you, we might even fight, but if we go out of this house and someone says something to you, even though I'm mad at you, we're going to blows because that's my sister," Legette-Jack said. "That's what we want them to understand. If you are locked into the sisterhood you will be her eyes and ears when she's not around. That's a deepness that doesn't really occur a lot in college basketball."
Buffalo started to lock into the notion of the sisterhood in February, when they started an 11-game winning streak. The players understood. They didn't need to buy into the concept of the sisterhood anymore. They were living it.
Part of the sisterhood is appreciating and celebrating the individual roles that people bring to the team. For Reid, that has always meant being the leader. She has built an impressive statistical resume and an even stronger legacy of leadership.
First, the numbers.
Reid owns the program record for career assists with 666. She has recorded a program-record 15 double-digit assist efforts in her career, including seven this season. She is the first UB player, and one of just three current NCAA players, to notch more than 1,100 points, 600 assists, 300 rebounds and 200 steals. And she's done all that in just 3 1/2 years as the native of Melbourne, Australia entered Buffalo for the second semester of the 2014-15 season.
But move beyond the numbers and you'll find a point guard who was not seen as an elite player in her native country and was overlooked in the recruiting process by American colleges. Except for UB. Legette-Jack wanted her and Reid wanted to come to Buffalo.
Excited when the deal came together, Reid had to adjust on the fly. There was a bit of a culture shock, and not just because she came from Australia, where it was summer and 100 degrees, and landed in a frigid Buffalo winter.
"In Australia we practiced two days a week," Reid said. "Practice and the intensity of it is something I hadn't seen before. The game was much more physical and it means everything to people in American and I love that. When I got here and learned basketball would be the center of our lives for the next four years, that was a huge shock in itself. I've grown to love it, obviously."
It helped that Legette-Jack was her coach. The two developed a close relationship, an imperative for Reid, who was so far away from home. "She's like a second mom to me," Reid said.
When she first arrived at Buffalo, Reid was challenged by Legette-Jack and the coaching staff. To whom much is given, much is required. Particularly when you're the point guard.
"I wanted to find out how tough she was, so whenever anybody made a mistake, I held her responsible," Legette-Jack said. "She cried many days, she kicked rocks. She probably quit a couple times that I don't know about. But she understood I'm not trying to attack the person, ever. … We're coming after that player because that player has been overlooked and disrespected. So we're trying to find out how great this player can become and I can push you as hard as you allow me to. She told me, 'Coach I’m unbreakable.' So we went to work."
It was a lot at first for Reid but as she stuck with it, evolving not just as a player, but as a leader, gaining a deeper understanding of her role as a point guard and how to work with her teammates.
"I grew up as a point guard and I've always known that point guards have to lead on the court but never like this," Reid said. "I've really stepped into that role and I've learned to embrace it. Coach has stressed it to me a lot. She's put a lot of responsibility on me to the point that sometimes it's difficult. But she's put me in a position now where I can go on the court with any five people and lead that group."
While Reid cites her confidence as the biggest improvement of her game, Legette-Jack points to her increased patience. Leading her team means she has to put others in a position to succeed. That doesn’t always come easily.
"She could make a pass, it's the right pass, but they don't catch it," Legette-Jack said. "She'd kick rocks but didn't tell them why she was kicking rocks. She had to learn to be patient with them. She had to tell them, 'I'm seeing you cut the basket, but you stop and if I'm throwing the ball to the basket, it's a turnover on my part.' Once she started communicating, that's where she really came to lead."