School: University at Buffalo
Coach: Felisha Legette-Jack
2011-12 Record: 9-22, 4-12
The first thing you notice about Felisha Legette-Jack is her smile. The next is her energy. She is excited. She is positive. She's a bit of whirlwind. It's an energetic boost University at Buffalo women's basketball has needed. UB last reached .500 in 2007-08 and last had a winning season in 2002-03.
So the first order of business, before getting down to the X's and O's is changing the culture of the locker room.
"I listen to a lot of gospel and ‘Shifting the Atmoshpere' is one of my favorite songs," Legette-Jack said. "With [new athletic director] Danny White and his administration and with what [men's] coach [Reggie] Witherspoon has been doing already, I think the atmosphere is shifting at Buffalo into high energy. Expectations are about success now. It was just about survival. Now, I think they believe if they work hard, good things can happen to them. I'm seeing that mindset shift over and I'm cautiously optimistic."
She may be cautiously optimistic, but she's got a sense of humor, about her team and about herself.
"What I'm excited about is I know their names. I'm excited about that. Let's just hold on to that moment," she said with laughter.
"My energy is going to hit you in the face. It's going to hurt. It's going to be fast. It's going to be furious. And if you try to run from it, you're going to get hurt. So they've said, ‘Let's just receive it.' And every day they're realizing, ‘You know what? She's just saying what we really want to do. She's talking about our legacy. This is our time. Let's just go for it.' "
UB always has had talented players but could never seem to get a full compliment or play as a unit. Last season, the team struggled mostly because of poor play in a 10-minute segment. And you never knew when the bad 10 minutes (which were often horrible 10 minutes) would come.
A new attitude will help fix that, but the Bulls are young and not used to winning.
> Keys to success
Senior guard Nicki Hopkins needs to become a consistent offensive threat. A solid three-point shooter, she averaged just 4.0 points a game last year.
Redshirt junior forward Nytor Longar (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is talented and experienced and improved as last season progressed.
But the real key will be if the Bulls can stop somebody, anybody, from scoring. They gave up 72.1 points a game last season. The good news for wins and losses is that Legette-Jack centers her basketball philosophy on defense. The bad news for the players is that means a lot of work. But they're buying it.
"If you talk to any of our players they probably don't ever use the letter "d" in their vocabulary any more. Because defense is a driving force for us," Legette-Jack said. "One thing that I believe in is that offense is going to come and go. It's going to be successful and it's going to fail you. But defense, all it takes is opening up your chest, putting your heart in it and smacking the floor and getting after it. That's what we've really been working on. It's been fun. They're learning to have fun playing defense.
> Big games
It's a challenging non-conference schedule for the Bulls, who open at Big 4 rival Canisius on Friday. They play five of their seven games in November on the road, including a trip to Atlantic 10 champion Dayton (Nov. 23). They host Duquesne (Nov. 28), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 5) and Pittsburgh (Dec. 29). Key home MAC games include Bowling Green (Feb. 7) and Miami (Feb. 20).
This is not an easy schedule to start against and the Bulls will take plenty of lumps with a new coach and a young team. Getting to .500 may be overachieving this year, but 12 wins would be a significant improvement.