Buffalo's Cierra Dillard made an impact on many, including Auriemma
Storrs — Back at home in the Buffalo locker room, coach Felisha Legette-Jack has her players write down two things to hang in their lockers: first, what they want their legacy to be and second, a poem or phrase that will serve to ignite them when needed.
"An asterisk should be, 'I played with Cierra Dillard,'" Legette-Jack said. "She's a special kid."
Dillard, the 5-foot-9 senior guard who has helped carry Buffalo into the spotlight during her time as a Bull, with NCAA tournament upsets two seasons in a row, played her final game Sunday night at Gampel Pavilion in a career that encompassed more than 2,000 points and even more inspiration.
Legette-Jack gave her senior with the magnetic personality only the finest compliments leading up to Sunday's game.
"She was the reason why this thing changed around," Legette-Jack said of the Buffalo program. "Because of her, I have rejuvenated myself as a coach and I'm excited about coaching this team and this game again because she walked through that door and gave me an opportunity to coach her.
"(Our players) need to know that they played with the best player probably in their entire lifetime in Cierra Dillard."
Dillard, who is from Rochester, N.Y., played for two seasons at UMass before transferring to Buffalo, sitting out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules. She became the fastest player in Bulls history to get to 1,000 career points in just 53 games with the program and eclipsed the 2,000-point mark overall on Feb. 27 this season.
Dillard, prior to Sunday's game against UConn, was averaging 25.1 points per game, second in the nation. She is Buffalo's record-holder for points in a season (827 prior to Sunday) and points in a game (43 on Jan. 9 against Eastern Michigan).
"You know who she reminds me of a little? She reminds me a little bit of Chelsea Gray," Auriemma said, referring to the former Duke player and first-round WNBA Draft pick. "She's got a little bit of an older game to her.
"She knows how to use her body really well. She's kind of subtle in some of the things. She sees the floor, she gets rid of the ball at the right time, she gets it to the right people, she can make shots and get other people shots. She has complete control of what's going on on the court. She's not one of these kids that's completely out of control and just trying to get hers."
Dillard, informed of the compliments from Auriemma, grinned.
"He better stop," she said with a laugh before adding, "That means a lot."
"It's just crazy," Dillard said. "I watched Rebecca Lobo, I watched Kara Lawson (announce) when I was younger. To hear them saying that stuff about you is definitely eye-opening."
Auriemma was asked to comment about the firing of Saint Joseph's men's basketball coach Phil Martelli earlier this week.
Auriemma, who is from Norristown, Pa., is a longtime friend of Martelli's, having coached boys' basketball under Martelli at Bishop Kenrick High School. Auriemma's son Mike also played for Martelli at St. Joe's.
Martelli coached at St. Joe's for 34 seasons, 24 as the head coach. He was fired Tuesday, with university athletic director Jill Bodensteiner telling The Associated Press that she "didn't feel like we were giving the student-athletes an optimal chance to succeed."
Auriemma didn't hold much back in his answer.
"It was a way of life," Auriemma said of Martelli's tenure at St. Joe's. "It's who he was. It's who his family was. His identity. He and St. Joe's were one and the same. ... 'We wanted to give our student-athletes a better experience.' It must really suck to have that experience, go to college for free and have somebody who cares about you, who loves you, who coaches their butt off for you."
Auriemma said what it comes down to is wins and losses, no matter how much Martelli did for the university and the community, with Auriemma calling it the "same old crap."
"You could be Charles Manson and if your team is winning 35 games every year, nobody gives a damn."
UConn freshman Christyn Williams, who is from Little Rock, Ark., was asked what the hardest thing was to get used to in Connecticut, identifying the weather and the food as the biggest differences.
What about the food?
"We don't eat bagels back home," Williams said. "Bagels are a big thing here."