SYRACUSE — Felisha Legette-Jack formally took her rightful place as a pioneer among the icons of Syracuse University athletics Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome.
The former SU women’s basketball star had her No. 33 jersey retired during halftime of the Orange’s 82-56 setback to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
Legette-Jack became the first women’s athlete in school history to garner the distinction. She joined 14 peers from the men’s basketball team and six football players previously immortalized by SU in the Dome rafters.
“I’m just so excited, so humbled, and so ready for the next person to be in line for this because every woman on our women’s teams deserves it,” Legette-Jack said moments after the ceremony.
“I hope I can be alive to see the next one,” she added. “I don’t want to wait 50 more years. I think with (athletic director) John Wildhack at the helm, he doesn’t want to see it be a long time coming again. We have some time to make up and I think we’re on our way.”
Legette-Jack took to center-court with her brother and other family members at halftime to a loud ovation and chants of: “F-L-J.”
She spoke of appreciating the honor, the hard work that led to it and the athletes that paved the way for her to be the first honored in such fashion. The Nottingham High School product also spoke of dreaming about attending SU despite knowing her only avenue was through the scholarship that she ultimately earned.
Legette-Jack shared a touching moment from the day prior in which she visited her mom, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and told her that the world now knows her name, Legette.
She remained emotional as the crowd’s attention was turned to the rafters where her No. 33 was lowered into the place it will reside in the Dome.
“You just know that God is involved, you have to know it’s nothing special about you, it’s a calling that is supposed to happen, and it’s a story that is supposed to be told,” Legette-Jack said. “When I saw that raised up, I just saw our community being lifted, I saw a lot of young people’s dreams come true, and I just kept thinking this is so not about me, it’s for those that can strongly hope and mostly believe.”
Legette-Jack was then brought to the side of the court where her No. 33 was shown painted on the sideline for permanent display. She said that additional honor was a surprise and among the many unexpected events that unfolded in recent days.
“All of this, it’s just not something I expected,” Legette-Jack said. “Then to see that No. 33, I wasn’t ready for it. I thought it was going to be a number and we’d pick it up after, but it’s embedded onto the court. I’m not a person that thinks I deserve anything, not a person who thinks if I did something then I’m supposed to get that, so everything is a shock and that was over the top.”
Legette-Jack’s ceremony kicked off SU’s commemoration of the 50th year of female sports programs at the institution.
She is one of three women’s athletes that will have their respective jersey retired during the academic year, along with Anna Goodale (rowing, 2002-05) and Katie Rowan Thomson (lacrosse, 2006-09). Gary Gait (lacrosse, 1987-90) will also be recognized.
Legette-Jack was also honored with a Mayoral Proclamation this past Friday at Dr. King Elementary School in Syracuse.
“It was great to see her number go up,” SU acting head coach, Vonn Read said. “She was a great player when she was here, she won a Big East championship and one of the things about her, she called that championship before she got here, so that was pretty bold. She was a great player and very well-deserving of her number going into the rafters, and we have some other players that will be able to follow.”
Legette-Jack starred for the Orange from 1984-89, missing the 1987-88 campaign due to a knee injury, and currently ranks eighth in team history for career points (1,526), fourth in rebounds (927) and field foals made (632).
She is one of three players to record at least 1,500 points and 900 rebounds in their SU career.
She finished her career as the all-time SU leader in each category, was a three-time All-Big East selection and was named to the Big East Conference Silver Anniversary team in 2004.
Legette-Jack was chosen as an SU Letterwinner of Distinction in 2011.
“It was definitely really cool to be playing on the night that happened,” SU forward Alaysia Styles said. “She’s a woman, and she’s a Black woman, and we’re Black women playing this sport that she’s getting her jersey retired in, so I think it’s absolutely remarkable to be a part of it.”
Legette-Jack is in her 10th season as the head coach for the University of Buffalo and previously held the same position at Indiana and Hofstra after beginning her coaching tenure as an SU assistant.