STORRS, Conn. — Cierra Dillard didn’t think about the possibility that she was playing her final game in a University at Buffalo uniform.
Not during the game, at least. Not while 10th-seeded UB was battling for an 82-71 victory against No. 7-seeded Rutgers on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Gampel Pavilion. But that doesn’t mean the gravity of the moment escaped her.
Dillard, the senior guard who has re-written the UB record book, looked to her bench and noticed coach Felisha Legette-Jack. She looked toward Rutgers’ bench and saw acting head coach Tim Eatman filling in for the legendary C. Vivian Stringer, on a medical leave of absence since mid-February.
Dillard was thinking big picture.
“I’m just so proud, not only as a player, but as an African American woman, playing in front of two African American coaches,” Dillard said. “I mean, I can’t say enough about that. You look up to that when you’re young. I see Coach Jack and I want to be just like her. I see Coach Stringer and I want to be just like her. That’s just the type of stuff you play for. And when you see people like that, in that position, you know there’s a chance. You know you have a hope.
“Hey, if I put in the hard work, if I put in the dedication, I can be where she’s at. I can have that resume. I can be where Rutgers’ (coach) is at. I can have that resume. If I just put in the hard work, I can do that. That’s just, in itself, the biggest thing that I took upon this game.”
The head coaches of three of the four women’s basketball programs competing in first-round games at the University of Connecticut on Friday — Legette-Jack, Stringer and Towson coach Diane Richardson — are women of color. Eatman is also African American.
“One of the things that we talk about as African American coaches is that we all are good leaders, and so once we get an opportunity to lead, then people get a chance to see that leadership,” Eatman said. “So I think this step that we’re making in the right direction — and the first part is about interviewing. You can’t get a job unless you’re interviewing for a job. So as long as people of color get an opportunity to interview, then administrators can see that they have an opportunity to lead. And once we get more interviews, and once you get that opportunity, then I think you’ll see more people of color. But at the end of the day, I think we’re making tremendous progress.”
Legette-Jack, who has led the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, said continued dialogue is of the utmost importance.
“We got together, (South Carolina coach) Dawn Staley, myself and a few others, five of us, and we just had a dialogue about, ‘What can we do? How can we help? How can we serve?’ All women, in general, but African-American women in particular,” Legette-Jack said. “You don’t see us reappear. If we do reappear, we don’t go up, that’s for sure. We go down into a different level. And now, I think African American women and men know that they have a place to come and talk and listen and be heard and listened to, and there’s somebody that’s going to fight with them and for them. And that’s the beauty of the day, when it continues on and it keeps moving forward.
“Things change, and yes, it has gotten better. But there’s so much further to go.”