In the aftermath of a season of underwhelming basketball, the Rattlers may be on the verge of losing their fangs.
Jordan Tillmon and Dylan Horton, the top scorers for FAMU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, respectively, declared in the weeks following the season’s end that they would be entering the transfer portal for the 2023-24 season.
Horton – who made the All-SWAC Second Team averaging 15.8 points per game last season, fourth-highest in the conference — announced in a statement via Instagram that she would enter the transfer portal for what will be her final year of eligibility.
“The amount of love I have received is unexplainable,” Horton wrote. “I’m excited to see what’s next for me in this new chapter.”
Coming off a 2021-22 season in which Horton missed the final nine games with an ankle injury, and the Rattlers posted a dismal 3-25 record — the worst in the team’s 41-year history — there was nowhere to go but up. Horton’s consistent presence throughout the 2022-23 season was a major force helping them to elevate their game, if even just slightly, doubling the prior season’s win count to go 6-23.
With the team’s go-to option likely leaving, the Rattlers have players who can be expected to step up their game moving forward, though a rapid turnaround seems unlikely given the massive shoes that have been left vacant.
Fans should keep an eye on Ahriahna Grizzle, the squad’s second-leading scorer behind Horton, to assume more ball-handling duties and help fill the gap left by the departing guard. This season, Grizzle led the team in assists, steals and free throw percentage. If she can improve her efficiency from the field, having shot .34 and .26 from beyond the arc, she can continue to be a very solid all-around player that the team will need to succeed.
Rising junior Skylar Baltezegar also boasts rising star potential if she’s given the opportunity to shine through increased minutes. One of the team’s most consistent rebounders and shot-blockers despite coming off the bench for much of the season and sitting out the final month, there may be big things to come for the 6-2 forward.
Head coach Shalon Pillow, coming off her second season leading at FAMU, finds herself in the hot seat following another down year. However, there remains hope for the season to come. FAMU made several key signings in last year’s offseason, including Grizzle and Baltezegar, and the team could have more surprises up their sleeve this year with signings and recruits who could lead the women’s squad towards a brighter future.
For the men, the impending transfer of Jordan Tillmon may not spell impending doom for a Rattler team that — despite their 7-22 record this season being their poorest since 2016-17 — certainly has the potential to improve.
Jaylen Bates, a 6-7, do-everything forward entering his fourth year, is primed for a breakout season, having proven himself as an efficient scorer who can rebound, block and steal the ball at a consistent clip. The squad also boasts plenty of depth at Tillmon’s guard position, with multiple reliable scorers bound to see increased touches next season, namely rising junior Jordan Chatman and senior Byron Smith.
Perhaps the most interesting among them, however, is incoming senior Dimingus Stevens. Stevens, a 6-6 guard who exclusively came off the bench and only played 12.7 minutes across 20 games, held the hottest hand on the team this season. The sharp-shooting Stevens electrified crowds with his remarkable efficiency from the field and especially behind the three-point line, where his unmatched .43 clip even rivaled his overall field goal percentage of .43, itself one of the highest on the team. Stevens was also one of two Rattlers this season to deliver multiple 20-plus point performances and scored the fourth-most points despite having only the team’s ninth-highest minute total.
With Stevens’ exceptional shooting on full display, keen-eyed fans must be asking themselves one question: “Why aren’t they giving minutes to the guy putting up Steph Curry numbers?” Good question, dear Rattler. Without their top scorer taking up a starting spot at the guard position, it remains to be seen whether Stevens, who is less of an all-around contributor than Tillmon and the players who will be vying for his spot, will become a starter next season. Either way, the skilled sharpshooter can certainly be expected to make a splash.
The threat of the transfer portal snatching away star players will continue to loom for as long as FAMU’s basketball programs continue to lose, but these teams have the talent to produce improved seasons.