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When it comes to internationalism, UB women’s hoops leads the MAC

The women’s basketball international contingent, clockwise from #15: Mirte Scheper, Ayoleka Sodade, Katherine Ups, Courtney Wilkins, Tamara Brcina, Stephanie Reid, Liisa Ups. Photo: Douglas Levere

By David J. Hill

“It’s easy to recruit to Buffalo because our international numbers are among the best in the country.”
Felisha Legette-Jack

Get to know UB's Liisa Ups

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Coming to Alumni Arena this winter … The International Basketball Federation World Tour! Not really, but it might seem that way given the roster of the UB women’s basketball team.

With seven players from outside the country, UB has more international players than any other women’s basketball team in the MAC. Toledo is second with four players from abroad. By contrast, Central Michigan’s roster is composed mostly of athletes from that state, minus one from Indiana. UB’s roster also includes players from California, Kansas and Mississippi. Sophomore Cassie Oursler of Grand Island is the lone Western New Yorker.

“We’ve kind of gone crazy with this overseas thing,” laughs sophomore guard Liisa Ups, one of four Australians on the team. “It would be cool to see on a map.” Ups came to Buffalo in 2014 with her twin sister, Katherine, a guard for the Bulls. “I’m so lucky to get to come overseas,” Liisa Ups says. “I’m doing stuff that when I was 12, I never would have dreamed of.”

Also on the roster are Courtney Wilkins and Stephanie Reid from Australia, Tamara Brcina from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ayoleka Sodade from Canada, and Mirte Scheper from the Netherlands.

How do all these international players end up in Buffalo? UB’s reputation for globalism helps. “The whole world is here,” says Bulls fourth-year head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who guided UB to its second-ever MAC Tournament semifinal appearance last season. “It’s easy to recruit to Buffalo because our international numbers are among the best in the country.”

Bulls assistant coach Cherie Cordoba, a native of Australia and former pro who was Legette-Jack’s assistant at Hofstra and Indiana, helped recruit the Ups twins and Scheper, a highly touted 6-foot-4 freshman who played in the Netherlands’ national development program.

Scheper arrived in Buffalo at the end of August. “It’s all very new,” she says. “In the Netherlands, we have different shops for everything. Here, you can pretty much buy everything in one store.”

If you’re wondering whether the program shies away from mentioning the “s” word to international recruits from warmer climes, look no further than the T-shirts the players wear. They read: “UB women’s basketball. It’s a different kind of cool,” with icicles hanging off the word ‘cool.’ “We’re embracing who we are,” Legette-Jack says. “What’s not to like about Buffalo? Once you see it, it’s like, wow, this is a cool place.”

While the Bulls’ international flavor provides an intriguing dynamic in the locker room and during team activities, how the team meshes on the court may take some time to develop. That’s OK with Legette-Jack.

“What really gets my juices flowing is the rawness, the unknown—not knowing who’s going to emerge,” she explains. “I like the pieces with this group. They have size. They have swagger. They’re mentally tough. If they stay, if they keep believing, this team will be in the Sweet 16 in a few years.”

Now that would be something to write home about.