Pillow eager to take Rattlers back to being basketball winners

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

In her quest to find out a little about the history of the women’s basketball program at FAMU, Shalon Pillow called on Natalie White.

White struck a chord when she told Pillow that the team she played on during the mid-1990s was a winning program. White even set a Division-I  record for steals with 624 in her career.

“What stuck out to me most was how she described the energy in Gaither Gymnasium when she and her teammate would take the court,” Pillow said of the conversation with White, who went on to become an executive in the WNBA. “There wasn’t anybody strolling in at halftime trying to get a seat for the men’s game. 

“They were there to see her and her teammates who had worked so hard to build the program. I want to get that excitement back. I want to get the energy back because these girls are going to be working hard.”

Pillow talked about the conversation during a Zoom press conference last Tuesday when she was introduced as the new women’s head coach. She replaces Kevin Lynum, who was let go last month after taking over the program in February 2019.

New FAMU women’s basketball coach Shalon Pillow promises to have the Rattlers playing an up-tempo pace.
Photo special to the Outlook

Pillow is the first major hire for Kortne Gosha since becoming athletic director last fall. He hired Pillow from Middle Tennessee State where both of them worked before Gosha went to Miami and eventually came to FAMU.

“We are excited about the direction of our women’s basketball program under coach Pillow’s leadership,” Gosha said. “Her natural pedigree as a student-athlete and coaching at the highest level of women’s basketball stood out immediately.  We are committed to providing coach Pillow with the resources and support necessary to develop the championship culture on and off the court that our young women deserve. It is my privilege and honor to welcome Shalon to the Highest of Seven Hills.”

While this is Pillow’s first job as a head coach, it’s her second time coaching in Florida. She started her coaching career in Tampa at USF as an assistant. Then she went on to take a similar position at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y. She also spent time as an assistant at Kentucky before going to MTSU.

Pillow played college basketball for legendary coach Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee. While she was there, the Volunteers won four SEC championships and appeared in NCAA tournament final four twice. 

As she has done everywhere she’s coached, Pillow said she is bringing a lot of what she learned from Summitt to FAMU.

“A lot of people when they see Pat on game day, it’s intense and practices were intense as well,” Pillow said. “But off the court there was a whole other side to her and that’s something that I’m definitely going to take on to these young women that I’ll be coaching.”

The challenge for Pillow is to turnaround a program that had a 6-21 season last year. That she said could change with the right mindset and player development.

“I can’t predict the future,” said Pillow, who vowed to turn the Rattlers into an up-tempo team. “I would like to say that we are going to turn it around fairly quickly as long as we have players that buy in, but it’s just a whole bunch of variables. You don’t know but we are going to work hard. I guarantee that.”

Turning the program around obviously will require recruiting top talent. She doesn’t just want the best mid-major players, either.

“All those big-time D-I players, I’m going to go out there and recruit them,” she said. “That could just start the snowball effect. Get one and another and then we’re at the top competing at the highest level.”