Published March 15, 2018
TALLAHASSEE — Felisha Legette-Jack was sitting in the stands Wednesday afternoon, taking a break from running practice to recount her six-year tenure as head coach of the Bulls women’s basketball team.
“Every year it’s gotten incrementally better,” she said. “We started off at 12 wins, then 17, then 19, 20, 22, and now, this year, 27.”
There is no arguing with those numbers. Under Coach Jack, the UB women have become a nationally recognized program that has made the NCAA tournament in two of the past three seasons. On Saturday afternoon, versus South Florida, the 11th-seeded Bulls will seek their first-ever March Madness victory.
“This is a great group of young ladies,” she said, as her players shouted and laughed on the floor at the Tallahassee Community College gym, taking half-court shots alongside coaches and team staffers near the end of the Bulls’ first pre-tournament practice. “But this team has taken awhile. Six years ago I inherited a bunch of kids who really didn’t know what winning was like.”
Legette-Jack switched her attention to the floor and all-MAC junior guard Cierra Dillard, standing alongside Legette-Jack’s 17-year-old son, Maceo, and a staff member who’d just missed the hoop by a city block. “Show him how to shoot it, CD,” she shouted as everyone cracked up.
Legette-Jack is an outgoing, fun-loving personality, engaging and approachable. But there is another element just below the surface: a tough, exacting drive that demands a lot from her players and from herself. That was in evidence earlier in the practice, when she was, as she put it, “all over them” for not paying enough attention to defensive details.
“It’s important that you get kids out of their comfort zone,” she observed. “Like I’ve been saying this year, our new comfortable is uncomfortable.”
“Coach Jack is definitely really intense, but her intensity and what she can bring to the game is really amazing,” said first-year guard Hanna Hall. “She’s a tough coach, so at times it’s hard to get what she’s saying. But as long as you can take it and really listen and learn from it, what she’s saying is the best for the game. You learn a lot and become a tougher player. I love playing for her.”
Legette-Jack grew up in Syracuse, where she led her high school to two New York State titles and became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder for Syracuse University. After graduation — with a double major in child and family studies and psychology — she served as an assistant at Syracuse, Boston College and Michigan State. In 2002, she became head coach at Hofstra and in four years led that team, by increments, from 8 wins to 19. That was followed by a six-year stint at Indiana, one of basketball’s capitals. She was fired after a couple of losing seasons, but UB’s then-athletic director, Danny White, snapped her up, and Legette-Jack brought her big-stage pedigree to the Bulls.
She also brought along a deep sense of mentorship.
“I’m responsible for helping 14 young ladies become phenomenal young women,” she said, gesturing toward her players on the bench. “I got two kids here probably going to medical school. There’s a communications major. One’s going home to run the family business. A couple going pro overseas. A pharmacist right there.”
Legette-Jack said that as good as her players are now, there may be even better players in the UB pipeline. She expressed her excitement at an incoming class featuring international recruits from France, Nigeria, Jamaica and Lebanon, adding to a roster that this year contains players from Australia, Nigeria and Canada.
“You’ve got to comb the world to find kids who fit our university,” she said. “It’s easy for Buffalo because Buffalo’s an international school. It’s neat that we have this kind of a school to present to them. And then they see this crazy coach who’s so passionate about everything. I tie my shoe and it’s like, ‘This is my shoe!’ and they love it.”
It has all added up to a winning team, threatening to steal the show on basketball’s biggest stage. Twelve, 17, 19, 20, 22, and this year, 27. For the Bulls and Coach Jack, the numbers don’t lie.