A lot can change within just a calendar year. Look no further than the transformation of Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team between now and March 2022 under first year head coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
Syracuse Athletics announced Legette-Jack’s hire on March 27, 2022. The Orange were coming off a brutal 2021-2022 campaign that saw them finish 11-18 overall and just 4-14 in conference play, the program’s worst record since Quentin Hillsman’s 9-20 debut in the 2006-2007 season.
There was a lot of optimism towards the program with FLJ at the helm. She seemed like the right hire to get the program back on track after the disgraceful end of the Hillsman tenure and the roster churn that followed.
The hire looked great at the time; it looks even better now.
The expectations for the Orange in FLJ’s first year centered mainly on re-branding the team’s culture around accountability, effort, and development. Even getting to .500 while staying competitive, especially in the ACC, was more than enough progress from 2022 to 2023 based on my preseason expectations.
On the court, the year-to-year improvement is historically unprecedented. She led the Orange to a 20-13 overall record, a nine-win improvement compared to 2022 which powered the team into NCAA Tournament consideration for the last month of this season. We saw a five-win improvement within the ACC, as the Orange secured signature wins against North Carolina and Miami in the process (and given the Hurricanes’ postseason run, that win looks significantly better now than at the time).
That progress alone would’ve been enough, but then, FLJ’s team took advantage of an automatic bid to this year’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament, secured two wins against Kent State and Seton Hall before falling just short to Columbia in the Round of 16.
Legette-Jack became the program’s first head coach ever to guide the team to the postseason. Outside of Barbara Jacobs in the 1978-1979 season, no Syracuse women’s basketball coach has posted a .500 or better record in their debut season. FLJ became the first coach in program history to get to 20 wins, clinch a postseason berth of some capacity, and win at least one postseason game ever.
On top of all of that, we haven’t even scratched the surface on FLJ’s skills as both a talent identifier and developer. Saddled with just two freshman and four returning starters, she added eight players, most of whom became strong contributors. Dyaisha Fair’s scoring translated from the MAC to the ACC and Georgia Woolley showed tremendous promise as she enters her junior year. Although they are moving on, Dariauna Lewis and Asia Strong proved to be critical pieces for the Orange’s bounce back season.
So far, the program already secured two headline-worthy commitments for each of the class of 2023 and 2024 recruitment cycles. Suddenly, a program lacking direction could somehow become a dark-horse in just a short amount of time.
Most importantly, FLJ loves Syracuse. It’s an addiction, from wearing the men’s soccer team jersey during a game this season after they won the NCAA Championship to congratulating other ACC programs for their success and fully embracing new men’s head coach Adrian Autry. She leads by example, and that clearly trickles down to the rest of the team:
March 21, 2023
A lot can and will happen between now and the start of the preseason. After one season, the early success is historically unprecedented, the effort is clearly there, and the future looks bright than ever.
And, to think just how uncertain the state of the program was just over a year.
That was then, but this is now.