Walk-On Orianna Shillow Earns Athletic Scholarship
DENTON -- A week before the fall semester began, Orianna Shillow was in head women's basketball coach Jalie Mitchell's office.
Mitchell informed Shillow that she had good and bad news for her.
She began by telling her the bad news, which was the junior had night classes three days a week that all last until 9:20 p.m.
The bad news put Shillow in a disappointed mood but it wouldn't last long.
For as soon as they were done talking about it, Mitchell asked Shillow to call her mom and to put the phone on speaker.
"I knew I hadn't done anything wrong," Shillow said recalling the event. "But it was weird and I thought maybe that wasn't the end of the bad news."
Quickly Shillow's confusion turned into a speechless smile as Mitchell informed them that Shillow was now on scholarship for her final two years of college.
"My mom started screaming and crying on the phone," Shillow said. "As soon as we were done I called my friend Alexis. She and I have talked many times about the importance of staying determined and working hard through the struggles."
For the past two years, Shillow had been the Mean Green women's basketball team's lone walk-on.
From an open tryout to now on scholarship, Shillow has had her ups and downs along the way but with her driven mindset she is proving to the ones she loves that anything is possible.
"Never did I think any one of those women who came to the tryout would earn a scholarship," Mitchell said. "But `O' is different. She's a determined young woman and without question deserves this."
Shillow, a native of Round Rock, Texas, graduated from Stony Point High School in 2015.
At Stony Point, Shillow averaged eight points and five rebounds per game as senior. She was named First Team All-District 13-6A and finished her career second all-time in Stony Point history for three-pointers.
But with no athletic scholarship offers she chose to attend the University of North Texas.
With Mitchell about to begin her first season, Shillow was told there would be an opportunity to tryout. Sure enough, at the UNT Pohl Recreation Center, she saw a flyer.
Six women including Shillow attended the tryout that was essentially a standard practice.
It didn't take long for Shillow to separate herself from the pack.
"The first thing was her positive energy," Mitchell said. "She was vocal and encouraging. The second was her stamina. She was the only one who made it through the entire practice."
After another tryout and a week went by, Shillow was informed that she had made the team.
A quiet and shy soul, Shillow didn't exactly become best of friends with all the Mean Green players her first day at practice. It took time and some help from a veteran to finally make it feel like she was part of the team.
One day, right before practice as the team was shuffling into the Super Pit, junior Candice Adams walked up to Shillow and started having a casual conversation with her.
As the year went by, Adams became a friendly shoulder for Shillow to lean on, a smile she could turn to when she wasn't feeling comfortable or just a friend who made her feel part of the team.
"She took the time to get to know me and would laugh at my jokes," Shillow said. "She helped me out a lot that first year."
Becoming friends with her new teammates was far from Shillow's biggest concern, however.
Shillow has for the most part paid her own way through college. From student loans, to monthly payments to groceries, she has received minimal assistance from her parents or anyone.
She worked jobs on campus during her first two years of college, even during the basketball season.
"It was tough to balance it all but I didn't want to quit," Shillow said. "I don't like giving up. I made a decision to do this for four years and see where it takes me so I'm going to give it my all."
That positive energy that Mitchell saw during the open tryout would carry Shillow throughout her first two years of college.
Even when she wasn't getting much playing time and found herself on the practice squad, Shillow was still impacting the team.
"She knows how to be good teammate," Mitchell said. "Her body language is never bad and she's always encouraging. It all goes a long way to winning a game and building a program."
When Shillow has gotten her opportunities she's taken full advantage of them.
Her first came on Jan. 30, 2016 when she was inserted in the starting lineup.
In a home game versus Rice, Shillow, who had only played a total of two minutes in the 17 games prior combined, scored a team-high 16 points.
"I was so nervous before the game," Shillow said. "And was so tired by halftime."
Shillow has seen playing time in just a few games since the game she calls her greatest ever, but she remains the same positive and determined individual. Even after earning a scholarship, her mindset hasn't changed.
Back in Mitchell's office following the good news, Shillow held back tears and a lump in her throat.
Though, earning a scholarship has never been the end goal for Shillow, she was proud of what she had accomplished and grateful for the opportunity her coach has given.
"I'm going to be the first person in my immediate family to graduate college," Shillow explained. "I want to set a good example to my family and especially my niece and nephew that going to college, working a job and playing division one basketball is possible. And hopefully they'll do better than me and get a scholarship right out of high school."