Savannah Wilkinson provides an open view of what this year’s coaching transition has been like for Florida State Women’s Basketball

At Florida State University, I felt the family atmosphere from the start.

It was in 2016 where my recruitment from different schools started to heat up. I spoke to many of the assistant coaches who were recruiting me on Skype, but then I had to schedule one with the head coach.

For my first Skype call with Florida State, all the coaches were on the Skype. I didn’t have to wait to talk to anyone. I didn’t need to schedule an appointment with Coach Sue. They would take me around and introduce me to people via Skype, and I thought that was so cool. I felt like I was already part of the family.

Coach Brooke (Wyckoff) and I really built a bond since then. We’re super close. We have the same sense of humor. She’s been to Spain and different countries in Europe, and actually knows people who I have been coached by. Our relationship has developed as I’ve gone through the years, and she knows me so well off the court and on the court. Even a little look she gives, I know what she’s talking about, like ‘Sav, don’t do that again.’

And that is one of many reasons why you need to know that we have complete confidence in Coach Brooke. I’ve been with her all four of my years. She’s taken on more responsibility as I’ve gone on. My freshman year she had Lance (White) as the Associate Head Coach, but when she moved to Associate Head Coach my sophomore year it was much easier for her to show what she wanted to do on the offensive side of the ball.

Now she’s able to incorporate everything – all of the skills and systems that she wants us to utilize. It’s been an easy transition. She and Coach Sue are very connected. They both have the same goals for us and the same plan. We don’t have to change any of our style, it all will just flow together which is awesome.

I respect Coach Sue so much. Many of you know, but for those who don’t – Coach Sue announced that she would be taking a single-season leave of absence to assist her mother in her fight against ovarian cancer back home in Seattle. As a team, we found out in September on a Zoom call. It wasn’t easy to hear, but we all wanted the best for our head coach and fearless leader. With that, Coach Brooke is the Interim Head Coach for this season.

I think I had some inclination because I knew Coach Sue’s mom was unwell. If my mom was unwell, I would be gone. Coach Sue is very similar to me in that aspect. When we were on that Zoom call it was just Coach Brooke and Coach Sue. Usually we have all the staff members on the call, so when it was just those two I knew we’d be getting some different news.

Then Coach Sue got a bit emotional which made me emotional because it’s technically my senior year. It was strange. I’m sad that she’s not going to be with us this year, but I’m real happy she gets to be with her Mom. It was a mixture of emotions. But we’re super happy to have someone like Coach Brooke who can easily step in and take over.

It’s interesting because those two coaches are so different, but Coach Brooke has also taken many of Coach Sue’s qualities. It’s nice that I’ve been able to see Coach Brooke develop as well as myself as a player. She’s so collected now. She analyzes all types of situations before making a decision – which is very much what Coach Sue does. And she’s become so detail-oriented like Coach Sue. And in addition to the detail, they both always make sure that we can just play. Not always stopping it, but making sure we can play through mistakes and try to correct ourselves.

Both coaches have taught me so much in my four years at Florida State. But I gained a newfound respect for each of them when they used words and actions to step up and show us how much they care about the social injustices in this country.

Right after George Floyd was murdered, we had a lot of Zoom meetings. Coach Sue and Coach Brooke quickly jumped on it to show that they’re supporting us and that they have our backs. That was really important.

We went on marches and Coach Sue got involved in some of them along with the team. It’s been nice to be able to express our opinions and feel like there’s not going to be any consequences behind it. We have Freedom of Speech and we can say what we need to say without feeling like there’s going to be any backlash from that.

Being an international from London, I haven’t experienced some of the things my teammates have experienced, like being pulled over by the police and what has happened from there. It was interesting to hear some of their stories and realize that it does happen to so many, it’s not like a one in a million thing. Some people try to make it seem like these stories are so rare, and we know that it’s not. To know that my teammates have actually been through some of those things, whether it’s being racially profiled, stereotyped or discriminated against, I didn’t know it was that common. Coach Sue didn’t know that either, she didn’t realize how many had gone through that. She thanked them for sharing.

For me, I like to analyze things a lot deeper than just a post on social media when it comes to social justice awareness. Obviously, Coach Toles and Coach Joy are part of the black community. I know where they stand. Coach Sue and Coach Brooke have not just posted on social media. They’ve been talking with us, asking questions and have wanted to fully understand. That makes it seem like it’s from the heart instead of just posting on social media so they don’t get any backlash. It means more when it’s like that. I’m not much of a social media person anyways. I like social media, but that’s not the end all, be all.

Improving race relations and bettering our social justice efforts is very important to our team. Right after Memorial Day when tensions really escalated, you would think we would be posed with the question “ok, we have two white coaches. How are they going to be about this?” However, both Coach Sue and Brooke immediately expressed how they felt. They wanted to hear our stories and understand our experiences. We didn’t even have to question them. It was so reassuring.

“To know that my teammates have actually been through some of those things, whether it’s being racially profiled, stereotyped or discriminated against, I didn’t know it was that common.”

Savannah Wilkinson

We really care about our fans. It’s very important to us that they try to understand where we’re coming from, and it’s something that we as a team have spoken about because we don’t always hear from them. It’s important because our fans are like our family. They’re like a sixth man. Knowing that they care makes us care more about them, whether they cheer or groan during a game, it makes it more impactful.

Our fans don’t have to align all their views with ours, but I think it gets to a point where there’s right and there’s wrong, or there’s right and silence. For us, within this community silence is wrong and hurtful. At this point, if you’re not saying anything or if you’re not trying to understand, then I don’t get what you’re trying to do. I’ve had Boosters reach out to me to tell me they’ve got my back, and that’s really important to me. It’s really helpful.

It’s not like all our fans aren’t supporting us in this cause, there’s many that actually are. But I think everyone has to realize it’s such an important issue right now. I don’t think it hurts to simply say ‘I hear you.’ You don’t have to do anything. We don’t need anything more than that. But just to know that you understand us and that you hear the issue.

We’re going to need their full support in a year like this, where we’ve experienced an off-season like no other and won’t have that same familiar face who has been on the sidelines for the last 24 years. But I think we’re going to be just fine because we have a lot more experience this year. We have players who have started games as freshmen and are now in their junior years. They have experience. They’ve gone through playing behind extremely good seniors in Nicki (Ekhomu), Naus (Woolfolk) and Kiah (Gillespie).

Coach Brooke, Joy and Toles have brought us together as strong, powerful women. We’ve had Zoom calls where we’ve been vulnerable with each other, and we’ve learned more about each other’s experiences. In my own experiences, I play better with people who I care about. Learning about everyone’s homes and siblings and parents and things that they’ve been through; that’s made me want to sacrifice for them, which will make us play at a completely different level.

I mentioned at the very start how Florida State University feels like family. In family, you always need loyalty. Coach Sue has been a staple of this university for so long, and now she’s being loyal to what she always preaches: That family comes first.

Coach Brooke also knows what loyalty is all about. She bleeds Garnet and Gold. We know she could have coached elsewhere by now, but this place means so much to her. And that means so much to us.

And I’m loyal to FSU as well. After my freshmen and sophomore years, I didn’t get to play as much. A lot of people at home were saying ‘Why don’t you transfer and play somewhere else?’

I’m not that kind of person. I very much love the program, and I love being a Seminole. That’s a huge thing to me. Our coaching staff is very loyal and transparent with us all and it makes everything so much easier. This pours over into recruiting. We don’t have to lie and “sell” our school to recruits, because everything we’re saying is genuinely true. We are a family.

Schedule a separate appointment to talk to the head coach? No thanks. At Florida State University, we do things as a family.

Savannah Wilkinson begins her fourth season with the Seminoles in 2020-21.