Bronx, NY – On the outside he remains upbeat, cordial and energetic. On the inside, another story. Losses piling up adding to frustration, tearing at him as he wants to win so bad. All coaches want to win, this is obvious. For St.Bonaventure women’s coach Jesse Fleming, even more so, as he works to get the program back on track.
Fleming in emotionally invested in Bonaventure. He is a 2005 alum, a former team manager and women’s assistant to Jim Crowley. He even met his wife Stephanie, the school’s men’s and women’s diving coach, at Bonaventure. Bonaventure to Fleming is more than a job, the ties are passionate and trying to get the program relevant again is a priority, an obsession if you will.
Crowley left St.Bonaventure in Spring of 2016 to take the reins at Providence. Many thought he would settle in as a lifer but the opportunity to turn things around at a Big East school was enticing. Coaches are very competitive and Crowley relished the challenge-realizing an opportunity like this might not arise again. No one connected with Bonaventure held the move against Crowley, who brought the Bonnies to rarefied heights-an undefeated A10 regular season culminating in the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2012.
Fleming came on board moving over from Bowling Green where he was a highly regarded assistant. He is currently in his fourth year is 31-84 overall. The Bonnies were 3-11 heading into a home date Sunday with George Mason.
On the season the Bonnies average 59 points per game while allowing 68. They average 15 turnovers per outing. A figure stagnating the offense and directly contributing to several losses.
A week ago Saturday they battled defending A10 champion Fordham even the first half. They stayed around early in the third period before Fordham defense and some timely offense took over. The Rams ‘won’ that period 27-8 en route to a 79-53 decision.
“I am proud of the effort we gave the first half,” Fleming said following the game. “We played well for twenty minutes but Fordham showed why they are champions. They showed us what it takes (to compete at a high level).”
This game was decided by the final stanza. An ongoing problem, though, with the Bonnies is fourth period melt downs. It cost them a few games this season. It’s something that has happened a few times in prior seasons under Fleming’s watch. The Bona mentor agrees it has been a problem adding, “it is something we as a staff are working on and have to figure out.” Is it mental, a loss of confidence in the stretch. he was asked. “Definitely, “ he replied. “Teams make a late game run and we seem to think ‘here we go again’. You are dealing with young kids, they are vulnerable to this. It’s something we need to change..to get to the point where we play through these stretches.”
Fleming has the admiration of his peers. Stephanie Gaitley in particular, the head coach at Fordham arguably the best in the A10, said following the Bonaventure game , “Jesse’s teams are always well prepared and give a strong effort. You have to be ready.”
Admiration is nice. Wins are your lifeblood in coaching. Fleming is aware of this and tirelessly pushes on.
There are critics, some venting on the Bonaventure Bandwagon message board, expressing their displeasure. There are the voices if reason pointing out Crowley struggled for six years before turning things around and getting the program on a roll. Most important as sources say, Bona Athletic Director Tim Kenney, who hired Fleming, stands firm in the coach’s corner.
Talent is not the issue. This tea, is young with have the squad composed of freshmen and sophomores. Among them sophomore guard Asianae Johnson, from Brooklyn, has the ability to get to the basket. Another soph, Deja Francis was named pre-season All-conference. ‘Downtown’ Olivia Brown, a freshman, is given that nickname due to her 41% shooting from deep. During his short tenure, Fleming has attracted talent. Getting the talent to jell consistency, another issue.
No sugarcoating-it’s been a difficult stretch to date at Bona. To their credit, Fleming and his staff remain upbeat, working hard daily with a positive attitude that rubs off on his team. “They (players) have had a great attitude and work hard to improve.”
Fleming labels his defense ‘a work in progress’ To date the same can be said about the Bonnies in general.