ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – The St. Bonaventure University community officially welcomed new women's basketball head coach Jesse Fleming back home Thursday morning in front of a large crowd inside the Reilly Center Hall of Fame Room.
St. Bonaventure coaches, staff, friends, family members and local well-wishers were on hand to meet the seventh head coach in Bonnies women's basketball history.
"When we looked for a coach, we asked the following questions," Director of Athletics Tim Kenney said. "How well do they know their trade; are they ready to be the head of a program, and most importantly, how well do they know us at St. Bonaventure? Jesse Fleming is the person who best fits all of that criteria."
Most recently the Associate Head Coach at Bowling Green, Fleming spent the past four seasons on staff with the Falcons. At Bowling Green, Fleming assisted the Falcons to a 73-55 record including a trip to the WNIT Elite Eight. Before his move to Ohio, Fleming spent one season as an assistant coach at Stony Brook and helped the Seawolves to the fifth-best turnaround in the nation that season.
Fleming's hiring is a homecoming – he is a 2005 St. Bonaventure graduate and spent 11 seasons on the staff of head coach Jim Crowley, first serving as a student manager, then assistant coach and finally Associate Head Coach.
"Some of the most important moments of my life have happened in this building (the Reilly Center). I can't wait to coach and lead," Fleming said. "This place gets inside you and never lets you go. You take a piece of Bonaventure with you wherever you go. If you've ever been a part of this place, you understand that. It is great to be home."
Though he had left the previous summer to take his position at Stony Brook, the heart of St. Bonaventure's 2012 Sweet 16 team was molded by Fleming's influence. He was a crucial part of St. Bonaventure's rise to the top of the Atlantic 10, helping recruit some of the best players in program history while also working with Crowley to institute a new coaching philosophy that would pay dividends. Fleming's recruits included Dana Mitchell, who would finish her career as the second-leading scorer in program history. Mitchell also became the first Bona women's player to have her jersey retired.
The road that ultimately led St. Bonaventure to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances began with Fleming on the staff. From 2008-10, the Bonnies recorded three straight 20-win seasons including the school's first-ever trip to the postseason, a WNIT appearance in 2009 that extended into the third round. During Fleming's time with the program, the Bonnies established new program records for victories four times.
"We are bringing back someone who was heart and soul part of those achievements," said St. Bonaventure University president Sister Margaret Carney, O.S.F., S.T.D. "We have someone to take the baton and lead the team forward."
Fleming takes over Bonnies team that went 24-8 a season ago, reaching the NCAA Second Round. The Bonnies will return six players from that squad.
"The players that we have now represent everything that is great about this program," he said. "They're winners. The beauty of this current group is that they've embraced what it is to be a Bonnie. Our job is to continue to find young women who continue to enhance that great Bona culture. This place is unique and that's what makes it great."
Fleming promised to keep the culture intact that has moved the Bonnies to the top half of the Atlantic 10 over the past decade.
"We are going to be a tough team and we are going to be a connected team," he said. "We are going to be relentless; we are going to be relentless in the classroom and in our mental preparation. The staff is going to be relentless on the recruiting trail and to their devotion to this program."
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