Sullivan: High-scoring UB guard Dyaisha Fair takes her game to another level

Sports

Dyaisha Fair leaves two defenders lunging the wrong direction in a game against Central Michigan. Opponents have gotten to know this feeling all too well during Fair’s career at UB, during which she has been near the top of the national scoring leaderboard. (Courtesy of Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

It’s remarkable to contemplate: A year ago as a sophomore, UB’s Dyaisha Fair finished sixth in the country in scoring in Division I and made first team all-MAC. She became the fastest in program history to score 1,000 points.

And yet, the 5-foot-5 point guard believed she was only beginning to scratch the surface of her vast hoop potential.

“I honestly feel there’s so much more in my tank,” Fair said Tuesday afternoon at UB. “I can do so much more and go so much farther.”

That’s a scary prospect for the rest of the MAC. The Rochester native has indeed taken her performance to another level as a junior. Fair has become a much more efficient — and equally deadly —scorer and leader for a Bulls team that is gunning for a league title and NCAA Tournament berth.

Fair is fourth in the nation in scoring after 13 games at 23.6 points a contest. Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Jasmine Dickey of Delaware share the national lead at 25.2 ppg. But if Dyaisha keeps up the torrid pace she set in the opening three games of the conference season, she might end on top of the heap.

Over a three-game stretch bracketing the New Year, Fair averaged 31.3 points in UB’s victories over Central Michigan, Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green. She averaged 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals and only 1.3 turnovers, despite playing all but three minutes of those games. She was 12-for-21 from three-point range.

She saved her best for the game at Bowling Green, which had bumped off UB in the semifinals of the MAC tourney last March. The coaches made note of that fact beforehand. Fair, who had shot 6-for-25 in that loss, didn’t need reminding.

“I was ready from the time we got on the bus to leave,” Fair said. “Looking back at the game from last season and the way I played, it was very personal for me.”

Dyaisha Fair is a reigning first team all-MAC selection (Courtesy of Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

It showed. In fact, she had a personal scoring high. Fair scored 40 points as UB won 82-66 at BG, which hadn’t lost since November. She was 14 of 22 from the floor, 6 of 10 on threes, 6 of 8 from the line. Fair played all 40 minutes as UB’s bench was shortened due to Covid and committed only two turnovers.

It was a masterful effort, one that reflected how efficient Fair has been this season. After shooting 37.2 and 36.5 percent from the field her first two years, she’s up to 45.0 this season. She’s shooting a little less often and making a lot more of them. Her three-point percentage has soared from 31 to 43 percent.

There’s no stopping UB if Fair, who has no trouble getting her shot off, maintains that sort of efficiency. The Bulls are averaging 87.3 points a game in the MAC, which would be third in the country in D-I over a full season.

Asked what she did in the offseason that led to such a dramatic rise in her shooting numbers, Fair gave much of the credit to head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who gave her a few shooting tips and urged her to become a more efficient scorer, ballhandler and leader.

“So, in the offseason, I just worked on it, figuring out the little things I could do to fix it.,” Fair said. “Staying in shape and staying true to who I am and true to the system we have here and just try to get better.”

Ultimately, shooting comes down to confidence, believing that every shot is going down and that you’ll never make any of the shots you don’t take.

“She told me it’s OK to take these shots,” Fair said. “Hearing her say that over the years and be true to her word, it made me shoot the ball more confidently. Even if my shot is off, in my mind it’s going in, whether it’s long-range or not.”

After a prolific high school career in Rochester, Dyaisha Fair has never had a season averaging less than 20 points per at UB. (Courtesy of Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

Legette-Jack has given Fair the green light from the moment she arrived as a freshman from Edison Tech, where she was the first city league girl ever named Rochester high school player of the year. Summer Hemphill missed the entire 2018-19 season with a knee injury, forcing Fair to take on an inordinately large role for a freshman.

Fair was fourth in the country in scoring as a freshman at 22 points a game. But she struggled at times with the responsibility of a primary scorer and ballhandler and finished the year with more turnovers than assists. But she earned her coach’s undying respect.

“I just love this kid,” Legette-Jack said. “I love everything she stands for. I love her character, her intestinal fortitude and her ability to grind when everybody else stops. She’s locked into something really special.

“It’s neat to see the evolution of a young lady not understanding any idea about what the next level looked like. So many people were in disbelief about what she could do at this level. She silenced the naysayers. She’s played against the best teams in the country, and everyone remembers her name.”

It’s no coincidence that Fair and the Bulls (9-4, 3-0 in the MAC) have become a better and more efficient team with Hemphill back at 100 percent (or 110 percent, as she claims). Hemphill returned last year as a redshirt senior, but re-injured her knee and played only seven games. She took advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed players an extra year because of last year’s Covid disruptions.

Hemphill, a Buffalo native and O’Hara graduate, is averaging a career-high 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. Like Fair, she has flourished in MAC play, averaging 22.3 points on 56 percent shooting. She played all 40 minutes in the Bowling Green win and had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

They’re as good a one-two punch as you’ll find in women’s basketball. And Hemphill, who learned a lot by observing leaders like Cierra Dillard and Stephanie Reid in her younger days, has helped Fair immeasurably.

“It’s been really different with this being my first full season playing with a healthy Summer,” Fair said, “and not having to worry about doing everything on my own. It’s having that extra piece of leadership, that extra body, that extra person who’s been there.”

Legette-Jack said you can’t draw up leadership on a blackboard. “It’s monumental that Summer is a secure vet who said, ‘Listen, I don’t care what I get out of this thing, but we’re going to do it a certain way, because it’s the culture of who we are’,” the coach said.

It’s not always necessary to draw up a play for Fair, either. As Legette-Jack said with a laugh, sometimes it’s “Everybody just get out of the way.”

Dyaisha Fair chose UB in part because she felt coach Felisha Legette-Jack cared about her as a person, not just an athlete (Courtesy of Mallory Hiser)

From the start, Legette-Jack said it was about trusting each other. She would trust Dyaisha to be the focus of the offense and Fair would trust Felisha to be the stern but nurturing coach she’d always wanted.

Over Legette-Jack’s 10 years as UB head coach, many players have talked about her as a type of surrogate mother, a mentor who thinks nothing of rushing out in the middle of the night to help one of her players with a personal issue.

She talks about developing her players into “phenomenal young women,” using basketball as a platform to tell their stories to the world. That’s the kind of coach that Fair was seeking when she was deciding on a college.

“I could have gone somewhere else,” Fair said, “but I was looking for a coach that didn’t only care about this basketball piece, that also cared about the life piece, the life lessons, the things I would need to focus on when the ball stops bouncing.

“I feel I made the perfect choice. Choosing to play for her was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far.”

Legette-Jack did all right, too. Imagine her good fortune, finding another elite scoring guard from Rochester to replace Dillard, who was second in the country in scoring as a senior and led the Bulls to back-to-back NCAA tourneys.

UB hasn’t returned to the NCAA tourney since, and Fair is determined to lead them back. They were hitting their stride with that 3-0 MAC start, so it was a little disappointing when Covid issues in the program caused the next two games (home last Saturday vs. Kent State and last night at Ohio) to be postponed.

The Bulls are scheduled to play for the first time in 10 days when they host Western Michigan at 2 p.m. on Saturday. They’re looking like the team to beat in the MAC, and Fair has a good chance to be league player of the year.

“I think there’s a lot of room at the top for her to keep getting better,” Legette-Jack said. “We just stay locked in. Never get high with the good or go low with the bad. It’s hard not to be excited when you score 40 points in 40 minutes, but we have to find a way to maintain that.

“We have to. Because it’s still January. It’s not February or March. I want to see what’s in the tank in March. That’s where character is really built.”

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.

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