Felisha Legette-Jack has encountered a lot of strong personalities in her career. She’s been coaching since she got of college at Syracuse in 1989. She’s been a head coach in Division I for 20 years, the last 10 for the University at Buffalo.

But she’s never seen anyone quite like her precocious Australian freshman, Georgia Woolley.

“She’s the most competitive person I’ve ever coached,” Legette-Jack said on Tuesday. “She’s just a different kind of kid. If you’re walking up the stairs and she’s walking up the stairs too, she’s going to take four steps to beat you.”

“I really don’t like to lose,” said Woolley, a 6-foot guard. “Coach Jack knows all about that. Usually on the road, we play a couple of hands of spades. I only learned spades when I got here, but we’re pretty good at it now. I love cards. Ask Coach Jack!”

Woolley said she and Casey Valenti-Paea, the other Aussie on the Bulls roster, lead the coaches in their spades series, 5-4. Legette-Jack says it’s even. Georgia can’t touch her in foosball. Felisha crushes virtually everyone who’s foolish enough to play her in foosball.

“OK, so I never played foosball, either,” Woolley said. “Ask Coach Jack to play me in ping pong, it’ll be a different story. She won’t even step near the ping pong table!”

You get the picture. This Aussie kid is always ready for a challenge. As a hooper, she’s just the sort of player Legette-Jack loves: Tough and talented, oozing with confidence and a high hoop IQ.

Former UB star Stephanie Reid saw it in Woolley when they squared off in a local tournament in their native Australia a couple of years ago, when Woolley was 17. Reid, now playing professionally in Australia, gave her old coach a call. 

“Stephanie is why she’s here,” Legette-Jack said. “Stephanie played against her and said I might want to look at her. She said, ‘She’s the kind of toughness that you like.’ I was excited watching the film when I saw what she could do.”

Georgia Woolley set new career scoring highs in three consecutive games, dropping 24, 26 and 30 points. (Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

Reid, a point guard on two NCAA tourney teams, told Woolley she would love it at UB. She said Legette-Jack was the sort of coach who cared about you off the court and improved your game on it.

“Steph had nothing bad to say at all,” Woolley recalled. “She talked about how passionate Coach Jack was for the game, how passionate she was for her players as people. That made my decision easy.”

Reid also knew that Legette-Jack wasn’t afraid to give a lot of responsibility to freshmen. Reid arrived from Australia in mid-season in 2014 and was starting two weeks later. Once Woolley established herself as an indispensable scorer and all-around player, she was playing close to 40 minutes a night.

“I let players play,” Legette-Jack said of her tendency to play freshmen big minutes. “Whoever evolves has to be out there helping us having success.”

Woolley has certainly evolved in her first season in the U.S. She started slowly, failing to score in a challenging non-conference stretch (Oklahoma, Syracuse, James Madison) in late November. She flashed her prodigious shooting skills by scoring 23 points in just 13 minutes against Niagara. 

In early December, Woolley sank a running hook shot at the buzzer to beat VCU, 62-60, at Alumni Arena. Legette-Jack later told ESPN that “it was a Stephanie Reid moment” — a reference to Reid’s bank shot in overtime in the 2016 MAC tourney final that gave the Bulls their first NCAA Tournament berth.

During the huddle before the shot, Legette-Jack told Woolley “Take one dribble and shoot”, as she had Reid in the MAC final. Just think, Woolley was a freshman who never started a college game, one month into her college career — and the coach drew up the play for her to take the big shot.

When Woolley made the game-winner, veteran announcer Paul Peck said, “the legend of Georgia Woolley continues to grow.” It was only just beginning. 

“No one wants to sit on the bench,” said Georgia Woolley, who now has 16 starts as a freshman. “I just wanted to be able to help the team any way I can.”  (Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

Woolley became a starter against Central Michigan on Dec. 29 and UB won five in a row. On Jan. 17, she played all 40 minutes against Kent State and scored 14 points. She’s been in double figures every game since. Woolley has really hit her stride over the last month or so.

She set a new career scoring high in three straight games — 24 against Ball State, 26 against Northern Illinois and 30 against Eastern Michigan. Over her last nine games, Woolley is averaging 20.1 points and 5.8 rebounds. She’s now averaging 14.0 points a game, the most of any freshman in the MAC. 

Woolley has a compelling case for MAC freshman of the year, because she’s doing it for a winner. The Bulls have won seven of their last eight, with the only loss in overtime. Heading into Wednesday’s home game against Miami of Ohio, they’re 18-8 and 12-4 in the conference, second to Toledo.

She didn’t seem the least bit surprised about it, either. 

“I had hopes coming here that I was going to be able to make as much impact as I could straightaway,” Woolley said. “It was important to me. No one wants to sit on the bench. I just wanted to be able to help the team any way I can. 

“I think the coaching staff and my teammates have a lot of trust in me,” she said, “trust to take the shots I’m taking and make the shots. That confidence makes it easy to play the way I play.”

“No, no!” Legette-Jack said, laughing. “I’ve got to stop her and remind her, ‘Dyaisha Fair is pretty good. Give her the ball if you see her open.’ Cierra was a ferocious passer. Georgia, she wants to put it up.”

Fair is fourth in the country in Division I scoring at 23.8 points a game. She endured a mini-slump halfway through the eason. But when Woolley caught fire, she did, too. In the nine-game stretch when Woolley averaged 20 points, Fair averaged 26.8 points a contest. 

“It’s great, really,” Woolley said. “Just playing with Dyaisha, practicing with her, you learn a lot every single day. She’s a great player. So I soak up as much information and knowledge from her as I can. She’s speedy. She’s crazy fast!”

Woolley is from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland on the east coach of Australia. He father, Adam is a draftsman, he mother, Sue, a legal secretary who was an accomplished basketball player. She has a younger sister, Kelsay.

“I started playing basketball when I was 5 years old, so I’ve played my whole life,” she said. “I  just want to go as far as I can with the sport. So wherever my college can take me, that’s going to be my goal. Just be the best I can.”

In the meantime, the main objective is helping the UB women get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019. They’re likely to be the No. 2 seed behind Toledo in the MAC tourney, which runs from March 9-12 in Cleveland. 

“That’s our whole drive,” Woolley said. “That’s where we be. That’s where we see ourselves being. So that’s where we want to be.”

Legette-Jack said her team seems to be peaking. Her star freshman is coming on, too. Woolley isn’t lacking for confidence. The kid has it in spades. 

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Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.