As a standout at Syracuse, she left the program in 1989 as its all-time scorer and rebounder, while at the same time graduating with a double major. She was later named to three Syracuse halls of fame, as well as the the Big East Conference silver anniversary team in 2004.
Legette-Jack began her coaching career at Hofstra University, where she successfully guided the Pride for seven seasons. She was then head coach at Indiana University. During her six years there, the Hoosiers won 18 or more games three times and made postseason appearances in each of those years. After a six-win season, however, Legette-Jack was let go – a move that devastated her. But after a recommendation from friend Anucha Browne, who was the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball championships at the time, Legette-Jack interviewed at Buffalo. She was hired the spring of 2012.
By her third year the Bulls were invited to the WNIT, and the next season the team earned its first-ever MAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth. In 2016-2017, Buffalo notched 22 wins. The following season they advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament en route to a 29-win year. In 2018-2019, the Bulls won another MAC title and upset Rutgers in the first round of the Tournament.
Legette-Jack has become well-known for her honesty and candidness in discussing her triumphs and mistakes. Her passion for the game and for her athletes has become her calling card, whether it is on or off the court, on the sidelines or in a press conference.
She and her husband have a son.
You’ve received your share of press the last three years. What do you think it is about your story and your character that resonates with so many people?
Sometimes I think it’s my authenticity, but maybe it’s too much and it doesn’t fit the protocol. In eight years coaching at Buffalo, I can only be me. I’m as real as I can be, and I’m open to being wrong if I am, with apologies coming afterwards. But I am who I am with no apologies.
Describe yourself as a player in college, i.e., if I went to one of your games, what would I have seen?
Passion. When coach called time out I was the first one on the bench looking into her eyes not knowing what she was talking about. I was so engrossed in what I was doing. I was going crazy diving for loose balls.
This game has taught me so much about life. I walked with my head down until the tenth grade; I was the shyest person you’d ever meet. I owe this game everything. It gave me confidence, courage, and the ability to look people in the eye. When I coach the game I respect the game go much; I give it everything I have. this game, i walk with my head down til tenth grade was shyyiest person you’d meet owe this gam evetrting conficence courage ablilty to look pepole in the eye. when coahc the game respect the game so much give it eveytging i had.
How did you approach coaching when you first began? How is that different from your approach now?
When I first started I thought that everyone had to be as passionate and crazy as I was, and they had to go hard. But people can be cerebral and not look like they’re going hard, but they’re locked in differently. Coach Freeman at Syracuse reminded me there are different ways to skin the cat, and it’s my job to meet people where they are and move them to their next step. You can’t always move it the way you see it; it has to be through their eyes. Someone’s heart rate may be up, but it doesn’t look like it. I am learning to take this game seriously, but not as much.
The beauty of this game is that you never know what it will bring. When you work a 9-5 you know exactly what’s going to take place during the day. When you wake up in the morning when you’re coaching basketball, anything can show its face, and you have to be prepared for it all. Seven-eighths of it is dealing with stress, sadness and other issues. It’s so much. Before your feet hit the ground in the morning you ask God to honor you and help grow these kids the way He sees fit. Sometimes you have to hug them. You don’t know what his plan is, so hopefully you’re centered.
You’re known for your “tough love” philosophy with athletes. Where did that come from?
You can be tough on them if you love them. My mom was very tough on us, but there was never a time where we didn’t believe she didn’t love us. She made us understand that everyone can be a success, but you’ve got to earn it. If we didn’t do a job in academics, she jumped on us hard. Then the quiet times came and she shared stories of how she was raised, and I and realized where she was coming from. She was someone who wanted to grow her kids bigger then her. When I recruit kids I’m doing live lunches and dinners in the summer, and I let them know that when we’re in that 90 feet of court, I’m going hard. So sometimes during practice someone will push me out of bounds on purpose.
What has life taught you about coaching? What has coaching taught you about life?
Life has taught me about coaching that you can give it your best effort and fail. But you’ve got two choices: you can stay down, or you can get back up and try not to make the same mistakes. To realize there was something you did to create this failure.
Coaching has taught me about life: don’t take it so seriously. Do your best and work your tail off, but don’t forget about God and your family. Take some time off. And in life, you can take possessions off, meaning that if you need to go out and have a glass of wine with one of your best friends, do it. At the end of thee day, if you don’t live life, what did you do with it?
What is your goal-setting process like?
I live today. My mom has Alzheimers, and if I talk about five years from now, I don’t know if she’s in this world. I live by moments, and I get blessed if she wakes up tomorrow. I stay centered like that and stay where my feet are. I give 100 percent on that particular day. I used to do that five-year plan, that 10-year plan. Now I live for today.
What qualities do you look for in players you recruit?
Passion. Someone that has a story to tell. Not necessarily a basketball story, but a story. Something that would make you think, ‘I wish people knew this about me and that they cared enough to take this time to get to know me.’ They could come from a single parent homeless shelter, maybe their house cause on fire. I love those kinds of things. You’ve got to plan for something bigger than yourself, and make everyone a part of your story by cutting nets down. I had top 20 recruiting class at Indiana and was fired. They were talented, but I never knew what they stood for.
What do you want to impart to your athletes during their time with you?
I hope they know I tried to grow them and grow their character, their academics and their game through life lessons. I tell them, I bring in 17-year-old girls that I hope to grow into young women when it’s all over, because the brain develops at 25. Hopefully they can look back and say, ‘she was passionate and drove me crazy, but she cared.’ I’ve been getting calls from people I haven’t spoken to for 3-4 years. They’ve told me, ‘you helped me grow.’
Do you feel any responsibilities as an African-American female Division I coach when there aren’t many such others in head coaching positions?
I feel a responsibility for women first. I really believe that how I go, we all go. We are at a stage now after 31 years that women are demanding equal pay for equal play. I believe we work hard enough that we are willing to demand to be paid for our value. I’m a Hall-of-Famer knowing how my mom was raised in the South, and how she worked her whole life to make $36,000. I feel a responsibility to help people be better than me. I have a former player (from Hofstra) who is now the head coach at Missouri State. She calls me once a week. Anybody that needs me for anything that looks like me – I’m available. All women know I’m available to them. It’s a responsibility. If I can help someone along the way, life won’t be in vain.
What is one thing coaching has taught you that you didn’t anticipate?
I do believe that through this game of basketball, winning is easy. What I think is very difficult is the process. The process is keeping going when it’s tough and you lost four games and you don’t remember your joy. Most people don’t want to go through that process, but what about ‘He woke you up this morning’? If you can stand in it when it’s tough, you can stand in it when it’s going great. I didn’t feel that when I was a younger coach. I really hope I can continue to win the process. God is asking us to go through the process, and that’s what I struggle with at times. I certainly want to get it right, so I have to do the work. I know that you win every time you give something better – even in a drill or a game. If we can fight through that loneliness, because the job is lonely.
What are the most important things in life?
My faith – during good times and bad times – my family, my Jack family, and my friends. My ability to grow young people, to grow phenomenal people. Sometimes the Buffalo men’s team lives in my office just as much as the women’s. My expectation is 100 percent from every student athlete that walks through our door. I want them to realize their value. I know my love is sincere, and God sees that I’m trying to do His work. My try is 100 percent.
If you had one weekend where you could go anywhere in the world and do anything you wanted, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d go to Jamaica with my family and hang out and say, ‘yeah mon, no problem!’ I’d want to chill out at a beach and say, ‘one more.’
Despite the final margin, most of the game was highly-competitive. Early in the fourth quarter just one point separated the teams, but the Bears played confidently in the final stanza, while the Huskies faded away.
It is January, and both coaches agreed that this game was just a snapshot of a moment in time, and not a prediction.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey warned about assuming too much from the result.
“Win or lose, we knew it would be a good game,” she said. “But I would say the same if we’d lost the game. [Today] is not indicative of what will be.”
“I don’t think there’s one team that’s just head and shoulders above everybody. I think there’s about six teams that have the ability and talent and coaching to win it all this year. We’re one of them. Connecticut is one of them.”
There are some observations that can be made from the game. But by no means are they predictive of March.
If their guards continue to hit three’s, the Bears could repeat
Entering the game, Baylor had scored 59 percent of its points in the paint (622 points), and 28 percent on two-pointers elsewhere (290 points.) They had sunk just 48 three’s in 12 games, and those 144 points accounted for just 13 percent of their 1,056 points.
This figured into Husky coach Geno Auriemma’s expectations and game planning.
“[W]e knew they were going to get probably to 65, 67 [points], and then we needed to get to 70, 75. And that we needed to make more threes than them,” he said. “We made eight, they made seven. We needed to make 10 or 11. We didn’t.”
UConn’s 113 made three’s this season did not average either 10 or 11, but they had made 9.4 per game. Auriemma’s point was a good one. The Huskies had the creds, but did not hit often enough from beyond the arc.
Their defensive game-plan focused inside, and successfully limited Baylor to just four paint points in the first period, and eight in the second.
The Bears responded by going outside, and seized the lead for good in a second quarter in which they hit four of seven three’s, giving them a surprising 15 points from beyond the arc to 12 in the paint in the first half.
Mulkey showed amused annoyance last season that ESPN had called her offense “old school” – apparently a reference to 2019’s post-dominant play. Against UConn, her team proved that this year’s squad was different.
Auriemma was more than impressed with the change in the Bears.
“[Baylor this year is] able to score a lot of different ways,” he said. “They’re not so predictable.”
“Last year it was really hard to guard with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox down there. But, with Nalyssa Smith they are way more athletic now. So they can beat you a lot of different ways, instead of just posting you up and throwing it in there. And Lauren’s making a lot more shots from the perimeter than she did last year. And as I said, if they’re going to get three or four or five three’s every game, it makes them almost impossible to defend.”
This UConn team has not learned to play four quarters of a game
The Huskies played stellar basketball in the first quarter against Baylor. They played high-level basketball for 22 more minutes, though they missed many shots (and way too many layups) that they usually make during that time.
They were within three points of the Bears after three periods, and scored the first points of the period to pull within one.
Then they collapsed.
UConn only managed six points in the fourth quarter on two buckets and a free throw. They shot 2-18 in that period.
They have had a lot of these quarters throughout the year, when they stop running offense and appear to have lost all the skills they learned in practice. They have missed an astonishing number of layups all season.
What is the problem? I’m not sure anyone has been able to put a finger on it – even Auriemma. One possible explanation is that the team really has had no vocal leader since Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck graduated in 2016.
The players who followed just seem to be “too nice,” as Auriemma has put it. The team features no player with an aggressive, “killer” personality, which is often the solution to a lull in focus. Senior Crystal Dangerfield tries to be that leader, but she really does not have that personality, and has not managed to pull it off regularly.
Perhaps another way to express the same idea is that no one on this UConn team has ever had to be the go-to player in a high-pressure game.
“We’ve got a really young team,” Auriemma said. “Young in in terms of being able to play in this kind of game.”
“They don’t know how to play in this kind of game where you’re counting on them to make shots that other people used to make for them. We’re kind of immature in that way.”
The difference is apparent this season.
“Usually by this time in the year, the guys who were All-Americans last year are carrying the load,” Auriemma said. “But we don’t have any. So it’s all brand new for these guys.”
Nalyssa Smith is poised to be an All-American
With all the attention rightfully being be paid to Cox, athletic, 6-2 sophomore Nalyssa Smith is going to have a huge season. Against the Huskies she scored 20 points on 9-13 shooting and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. None of this is a surprise to Big 12 coaches, who voted her onto the preseason All-Big 12 team, but most everyone else is just learning how good she really has become. After shredding UConn’s defense, in her next game she scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Oklahoma State.
Last season Smith was the third option in the post after Kalani Brown and Cox. With Brown gone her role is larger this year, and that includes dealing with better defenders. But Smith has stepped right in where she left off at the end of last season. In her final game (the National Championship) she played just 17 minutes, but scored 14 points on 7-9 shooting.
This season she now leads the team in scoring (16.9 ppg) rebounding (8.1 rpg), shooting percentage (.609), and free throws made (53) and attempted (69). Did we mention she is only a sophomore?
This UConn team could be good enough to go deep into March. Or not.
“[W]hen she was good, she was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Like Longfellow’s little girl with “a little curl,” UConn has played wonderful basketball at times, and looked like a high school team at others. We saw both aspects against Baylor.
The “wonderful basketball” part includes the following:
– The often-maligned Husky defense held Baylor 14 points below their season average, and effectively kept a post-oriented offense out of the paint.
(On the other hand, the UConn offense shot 20 points below their season average. The team’s post players – Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Aubrey Griffin, and starter Kyla Irwin – were 0-14 on the day.)
– When running the offense in the first 30 minutes, the Huskies got a lot of open shots, and Auriemma took some solace from that.
“I gotta believe, if we get the same shots, and as many of them as we got, we’ll make more of them [next time],” he said. “Today we didn’t. “
Part of the problem is that, as pointed out above, the only player the team has leaned on in the past is Dangerfield, and even she is facing a different look from most teams.
Auriemma noted an obvious, but easily overlooked, difference from last season.
“You know those dopes that were guarding you last year?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, now, the guys that were guarding Pheesa (Napheesa Collier) and Lou (Katie Lou) Samuelson) are guarding you.”
“So, whatever you were doing to try to get open last year, ain’t going to work this year. That’s a shocker to them. Things are harder, and it takes some getting used to.”
– Auriemma was clearly displeased with the effort of posts Nelson-Ododa and Griffin, and he benched both in the fourth period. This left the Huskies without any rim-protection for a full 10 minutes, and Baylor scored all of its field goals (10 points) in the paint. Had UConn had a player on the court over 6-2, the final score could have been smaller.
In addition, six of the Bears’ fourth quarter points were scored on free throws when the game was no longer in doubt, and UConn fouled them to no purpose. So, the real margin could be seen as 10 points.
– Nelson-Ododa could hardly play worse offensively, and her coach believes she will mature in the next three months.
“You know when the season started I said that Liv is probably the key guy that we’re going to need,” he said “And tonight just didn’t work out.”
“[Her offensive struggle] is a combination of things. She’s her own worst enemy. She plays tentatively. And she’s going to get better. And she will be better, the more games she plays. . . . The next time we play in this kind of game, she’ll play a lot better.”
– Megan Walker had a tough game against the Bears, shooting 5-20, but still managed 18 points. She is having an All-American year, currently standing in the top 15 nationally in both points per game and three point percentage, while leading her team in rebounding (9.4 rpg) as a 6-1 small forward.
– Sophomore Christyn Williams has always been a scorer, but in the last month has dramatically improved as a rebounder and passer. She should continue to improve in all aspects of the game. (She’s been awful from beyond the arc this year, however, shooting just .279, after a freshman season .367.)
Auriemma is, again, optimistic that he’ll see more from her.
“I never worry about Christyn in these games. Christyn can pretty much take the ball and go wherever she wants,” he said. “And she’s fearless. And yes, she’s not shot the ball well from the perimeter this year. But I don’t worry about her. And she’s only a sophomore, so she’s only going to get better.”
The coach is realistic about what this game meant, and what it didn’t mean. UConn might be great by the post-season, or the Huskies could fail to overcome the lack of confidence that led to the magnitude of this defeat.
“We’re like a lot of teams in the country now,” he said. “I think at this time of the year, you have to treat every game – especially a game like this one, against a really, really good team – like it’s a part of your class, and this is one of the tests you have to take. And what would be devastating was if this was the final.”
“All I can do is to get this team to be as good as this team can be. And I don’t know how good that is. I mean, we’re going to be better than we were today, obviously. But how good, come March, I don’t know.”
Eugene, Ore. – What began as a midseason showdown between two Pac-12 Conference superpowers turned into a Sabrina Ionescu-led blowout, as the No. 6 Oregon Ducks routed No. 3 Stanford, 87-55.
The senior guard, who has notched an NCAA-record 22 career triple-doubles, cemented her legacy in Thursday night’s match up, scoring a career-high 37 points and breaking Oregon’s 36-year-old career points record to lead the Ducks.
With 2:21 remaining, Ionescu hit a step back mid-range jumper and coach Kelly Graves called a timeout. As the Northern California native came out of the game to the roar of the 12,218 fans in attendance, she saluted the Stanford bench, saying later that she grew up in the shadow of the standard the program set in women’s basketball.
When told of her scoring record earlier in the game, Ionescu looked as confused as she had when she notched her last triple-double a week ago.
“I didn’t know they said something at the game,” she said. Then she paused. “Did they?”
Oregon shot poorly to start, and trailed at the end of the first quarter. They picked it up in the second and led by six at the break. The Cardinal began the second half on a 7-0 run before Ionescu and Satou Sabally, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, seized control and paced the Ducks the rest of the way.
The hosts out-rebounded Stanford 35-26, and forced them into 18 turnovers, while committing only 7 of their own. Ruthy Hebard added 11 points for Oregon, while Minyon Moore scored 10. Kiana Williams had 15 points for Stanford, while Lacie Hull added 10.
If Ionescu respected the Cardinal, the feeling was mutual, as Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer said she was the deciding factor in the Ducks’ win.
“They had Sabrina, we didn’t,” VanDerveer said. “Sabrina is a once-in-a-career player. She’s phenomenal. She’ll be the (WNBA) number one draft pick.”
Graves said their opponents played uncharacteristically.
“They didn’t play a typical Stanford game,” he said. “They’re one of the most disciplined teams in the country, and what we tried to do was break their rhythm. I thought we did a really good job of that. They typically don’t turn it over 18 or 19 times.”
The Ducks’ defense compensated for their perimeter shooting struggles. After a 1-9 start they finished 8-24 from three. Outside of Ionescu’s 5-12 shooting from deep, the team shot just 3-12.
The game was reminiscent of last February’s match up between the two teams in Palo Alto, when Oregon routed the Cardinal, 88-48. Stanford returned the favor in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game, beating the favorite Ducks to take the title.
This season, which has seen more changes in the AP top 10 than ever before, both teams have taken turns at the No. 1 spot. Though Oregon’s win Thursday was technically an upset, both teams are laden with talent in a conference full of ranked squads.
In the Ducks’ two losses this year, they shot 20.8 percent from three, which is 15.2 percent lower than their season average. But against the Cardinal, Oregon proved they can dominate the offensive end without relying on the three-pointer.
“Early in the year, we were shooting too many three’s,” Graves said. “We’re being a lot more patient (now). We’re not just settling for a quick three. We’re getting a little bit more inside. If you look at how many times we’re getting to the free throw line over the last six, eight games, it is really trending up.”
The Ducks will stay in Eugene to play the Cal Bears Sunday, while Stanfords heads to Corvallis to play No. 8 Oregon State. VanDerveer said her team will be ready.
“We don’t have time to have a little pity party,” she said. “You’ve got to turn around and play Oregon State. And they’re a terrific team too.”