October 25, 2022 | By Rachel Lenzi | Updated October 28, 2022 | buffalonews.com
Photo: Summer Hemphill, the former basketball star at Cardinal O’Hara and UB, helps teach as she has transitions to an assistant coach position at Daemen University. Photo credit: Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News
Summer Hemphill is in full coaching immersion.
About two months into her first coaching job with the Daemen University women’s basketball team, she’s done everything from scout opposing teams to cut film for team meetings. She’s identifying recruits who fit into Daemen’s system and its culture. She’s working with players in practice, overseeing them in drills and even sometimes bossing them around on the court – in a constructive fashion.
Hemphill has crossed the threshold into basketball adulthood. A standout at Cardinal O’Hara and at the University at Buffalo, Hemphill has found a new role in the sport – and didn’t have to go to the other side of the world or to another state to stay.
She’s teaching. She’s getting a new perspective on the sport that has given her so much and that has created opportunities for her, including her newest path, as an assistant on Jenepher Banker’s staff with the Wildcats.
She considered going overseas to play basketball, but when Banker reached out to Hemphill in late summer about a new opportunity, Hemphill had to hear out the offer from a hometown program.
The local woman stayed local.
Hemphill scored 1,417 points and grabbed 1,150 rebounds in six years at UB. Her final college game was at one of the cathedrals of women’s basketball, UB’s 80-67 loss to Tennessee in a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament in March at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
Now, Hemphill’s first game as an assistant coach with the Wildcats will bring her back to a familiar place: UB’s Alumni Arena. Daemen faces the Bulls in an exhibition game at noon Sunday in the gym where Hemphill spent hours.
“It’s going to be weird, for sure,” Hemphill said of returning to UB. “I think it would probably be more weird if it was against the players and staff that I played with, and played for there, during that time. Everything’s kind of new there. Of course, I’m always going to be a UB alum. And I’ll be rooting for them … except for when we play.
“I’m all Daemen for now.”
Almost all of her teammates are gone, save for Bulls guard Jazmine Young. Hemphill, though, will see another familiar face: Kiara Johnson, a post player at UB and a former teammate of Hemphill’s at O’Hara. Even Johnson has to laugh – in a good, reflective way – as she thinks about seeing Hemphill on an opposing sideline. She played pickup games against Hemphill over the summer as she prepared to join the Bulls as a transfer.
“It’s going to be crazy seeing her not playing, and seeing her as a coach,” Johnson said. “Like, oh my gosh, we’re growing up! We’re getting old, and you’re not subbing in, you’re coaching!”
Hemphill returns to the court where she experienced success, where she learned about the heartbreak of a major injury and the resiliency that comes through rehabilitation, and where she even got a taste of coaching.
Sidelined with a knee injury for the 2019-20 season, Hemphill remained involved in basketball activities at UB, and found herself directing teammates and offering her perspective to former UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
Hemphill made her voice even louder, and more impactful. In that process, a thought came to Hemphill’s mind: Maybe this is the next step for me.
“It didn’t cross my mind until I was injured and sat out, for as long as I did, which was very long,” Hemphill said. “During that time, I definitely did a lot of bossing around with my teammates, since they were also young. They definitely came to me for questions on the court, off the court. That was definitely a time where I considered that I’d definitely look into coaching, if it was an option for myself.”
More than two years later, Banker was in desperate pursuit of a new assistant, as former assistant James Ewing left Daemen to become the director of basketball operations for the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball program. August is late in the game to be hunting for staff members. Banker had a small window to hire, and a certain criteria.
“I just started, in my brain, thinking, ‘Who’s local? Who just played?’ ” Banker said.
Banker shook the coaching tree. Hemphill came as a recommendation from a former UB staff member.
“I even thought of Summer,” Banker said. “I didn’t know if she was even interested in coaching.”
Still, Banker took a stab in the dark and sent Hemphill a text message, asking her if she was interested in the opening and if she had time to meet.
“I was shocked but I was like, ‘Maybe this is my calling, maybe this is something,’ ” Hemphill said. “I was unsure about playing. I was still indecisive. Everything was really up in the air.”
Hemphill didn’t think. She listened to her inner voice, a clarion call of sorts.
“On the inside, I was going, ‘I really do want this,’ ” Hemphill said.
They met in Banker’s office next to Lumsden Gymnasium and Banker laid out her vision for the new assistant and how that person would fit into a program that, for lack of a better term, pulls itself up by its own bootstraps.
Not too long afterward, Hemphill agreed to kick off the working relationship. In a way, she began a form of coaching boot camp.
Daemen doesn’t have the luxury of a Division I budget or a deep support staff. Assistant coaches at the Division II and III levels of college basketball are a teacher, a director of basketball operations, a conditioning coach, a strategist, a video coach and a recruiter, all wrapped into one job.
Doing the heavy lifting has given Hemphill, who was accustomed to life as a Division I player, a new appreciation for the work that goes into the everyday operations of a Division II program.
“The grind that has to go into coaching, it’s really a grind,” Hemphill said. “It also makes me respect Division II, as a whole. At D-I, things are handed to you, in a sense. Here, you actually have to work for it. I have a whole different respect for the players, the coaches, everybody, the administration here because it is it is completely different from my experience. The grind is definitely real here, and they work hard for everything that they’ve earned. And I respect that, for sure.”
It’s also given her a new path, even as it’s about to run through a familiar domain.
“I got to play for UB, so this is a whole new chapter for me,” Hemphill said. “I’m no longer playing. I’m coaching now. Daemen is the start of that, and I’m just grateful for Coach reaching out to me.”