AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — One of the most accomplished women in Western New York basketball is feeling like a rookie again.
Summer Hemphill might only be a few miles from University at Buffalo, and not that much further from Cardinal O’Hara High School. But she is making a big career move after a decade of dominance on the court, in her first semester on the sideline at Daemen University.
“It’s kind of weird being called Coach Summer,” Hemphill said. “The team doesn’t call me Coach so much. At times they do, but it’s more Summer. Being able to change that mind frame from player to coach is an adjustment. I think I’m doing a good job with it. But there is room for improvement.
“I’m a rookie at this coaching thing. I know it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. I don’t expect to be at my best yet, but learning through experience one day at a time. And so far I’m loving the coaching experience.”
Daemen coach Jenepher Banker, whose sideline experience goes back four decades, said Hemphill has been a quick study.
“She’s been fantastic,” Banker said. “Some players make the transition easily, and some have difficulty. It depends on the individual. Summer has been incredibly professional from the jump, and kind of a natural.”
Banker, the longtime Grand Island High School coach and former assistant at Canisius College and Iowa State, has coached Daemen to 100 victories in six seasons, with four wins in the past two NCAA Division II Tournaments.
“The culture Coach Banker has built here at Daemen is amazing,” Hemphill said. “It reminds me of the culture my coaches had at UB.”
Felisha Legette-Jack and her staff, now at Syracuse, coached UB to 202 victories over the past decade, 133 in the six seasons with Hemphill on the roster. Hemphill played on UB teams that claimed two Mid-American Conference championships and won three NCAA Tournament games. Her picture graces the cover of UB’s record book as the Bulls’ career leader in games played (134) and rebounding (1,153), sixth all-time scorer (1,417), and the second woman in program history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“The players on our team were really excited to have her come in here,” Banker said. “Someone who has been highly successful and just finished her career. A female they can relate to. She brings a lot of really good things that we were looking for.”
Hemphill gained a coach’s viewpoint and interest in the profession while redshirting her senior season at UB with a knee injury.
“That put me in a position where I had to be a coach in the locker room for the players on the team,” said Hemphill, who further developed her leadership skills playing two graduate years after the NCAA allowed athletes an additional year of eligibility during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I definitely had to use my voice more,” Hemphill said. “There were a lot of new players on the team, and they relied on me heavily. They’d ask questions about the system we ran at UB, or how we did things off the court. So that was a point in time where I definitely had the thought process to consider coaching in the future.”
Hemphill already had a kinship with the Wildcats, as her brother Justin begins his third year on the Daemen men’s basketball team. She was training to play overseas when Banker approached her with the coaching opportunity. The Wildcats had a late summer opening after James Ewing, another O’Hara graduate, joined the coaching staff at St. Bonaventure, and with Banker’s daughter, Kallie, assisting from afar this season while living in Syracuse.
“Playing was an option, but that injury changed my mental state,” Hemphill said. “I started thinking about the future, my body, my knee, and not wanting to put myself in a position where things don’t go the way I think they should. So when a great opportunity popped up to start coaching, I was grateful for it.”
O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil, who accompanied his former player on the floor prior to her final home game at UB, said Hemphill is “exactly what college basketball is looking for right now.”
“Minority women with basketball experience that can come into a program and the kids can relate to immediately,” O’Neil said. “They’ve seen her play. She can give them firsthand experience of what she has been through to get to the NCAAs. What it takes to score 1,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds.
“I see Summer being a head coach at a Division I school running her own program someday,” O’Neil said. “When she first called me to talk about this opportunity, she wasn’t she sure if she wanted to go play overseas, or get into law enforcement. Now when I talked to her two days ago, she was enjoying coaching so much that she now wants to make a career out of it.”
Hemphill’s exhibition game coaching debut will occur on a familiar floor Sunday when Daemen plays UB at Alumni Arena. It will be a different experience walking out of the visitors locker room to the opposing bench, as Hemphill strides along on the new path in her basketball journey.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Hemphill said. “I’m a UB alumna, and I’m eager to see what the new coach (Becky Burke) has brought to the program. But I haven’t worn a UB jersey since the end of the season. I’ll be going in there with my Daemen gear on. I’m excited for the experience these young women will get playing at UB. And when I’m on the visiting bench, I’m definitely looking forward to trying to win.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.