No storybook start for new women’s basketball coach at FAMU after all

Shalon Pillow had her coaching debut at FAMU scrubbed by the coronavirus.
Photo by FAMU athletics

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

     A better script couldn’t have been written – two childhood basketball players squaring off against each other in their debuts as head coaches.

That was the plan for FAMU’s new women’s head basketball coach Shalon Pillow and Brooke Wyckoff, who is interim head coach of the FSU women’s program. Then came the coronavirus, prompting FAMU to opt out of the season.

FAMU didn’t say how many of its 15 women’s players were affected by the virus, but said the reduction of personnel was too much to attempt to carry on with the season. The game was scheduled as the season-opener for Pillow and Wyckoff who both grew up playing AAU basketball in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The game was scheduled for the Lawson Center last Wednesday and it would have been the first time that the two teams play at FAMU since 1997. Their last meeting was in 2004.

Meanwhile, FSU was hit with residual from the coronavirus again when it was forced to postpone its game last Sunday against Florida. The Seminoles will open the season against Austin Peay at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Civic Center.

FAMU was predicted to finish fifth in the MEAC, which would have been its last season in the conference. The athletic programs announced earlier this year it is moving the SWAC, beginning in next summer.

The game would have been the first for Wykoff as a head coach as she fills in for Sue Semrau, who is on a leave of absence. Pillow was an assistant coach at four other programs and being at FAMU puts her in the top job at a Division I program for the first time.

Pillow, who played under Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee, came to FAMU from Middle Tennessee State University to become the third head coach for the program in the past three seasons.

While the NCAA gives players the choice to opt out of a season with the possibility of regaining a year’s eligibility, Pillow seemingly wasn’t sure the two seniors on her team would come back next year.

“I’m disappointed for my two seniors and the young ladies who have worked very hard to get to this point,” Pillow said in a news release. “However, the safety and health of our student-athletes is our top priority. Although this was a tough decision, we will continue to support our young ladies during this time.”  In the same press release, the FAMU athletic department said a spike in COVID-19 cases made it impossible to move forward with the season.  “We are very disappointed but obviously we are taking concerns and circumstances within the women’s basketball program and COVID-19 very seriously,” said Director of Athletics Kortne Gosha. “Student-athletes’ health and safety is and will remain our top priority. The department of athletics and the university are committed to adhering to all COVID-19 protocols and making sure we keep every Rattler student-athlete safe.  

“We will continue to support our student-athletes as they navigate these difficult times. We apologize to our scheduled opponents, as we know this will present scheduling challenges. However, we must keep student-athlete safety as our number one priority.”