Pitt Coaches prepare to Pink the Pete for the first time


Bader Abdulmajeed | Staff Photographer

First-year guard, Jahsyni Knight (0), feels the Pink the Petersen game is a good chance to empower women and bring awareness to breast cancer.

By Dominic Campbell, Staff Writer

Pitt’s women’s basketball team will play its 12th annual Pink the Petersen game, a game dedicated to breast cancer survivors, Sunday against Miami. The game holds special meaning every year for the coaches, players and survivors, but this year it hits especially close to home for head coach Lance White, who dealt with the impacts of breast cancer firsthand while he was coaching at Florida State.

“You know, I think, anymore, I think it’s hard for anyone not to have been touched in some ways,” White said. “Obviously, you know, we’ve had really special players whose parents have passed away from the disease. One at Florida State whose mom, we went through the whole process with her. It’s such a horrific disease … just dealing with our players, ’cause all of our players have someone they’ve been touched by as well through this and so we just want to be a part and help as much as we can.”

Pink the Petersen is a game that highlights breast cancer survivors, with donations and a portion of each ticket going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. At each Pink the Petersen game, breast cancer survivors who attend the game are recognized for their battle during halftime.

White has spent many years coaching women’s basketball, including 10 years at Texas Tech and 15 years at Florida State. He has participated in events like this for breast cancer before, most notably the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, also known as Play4Kay.

Play4Kay is a foundation that began after the death of famous NC State head coach, Kay Yow, who fought breast cancer off and on from 1987 until her death in 2009. Many women’s basketball teams, including the Panthers, have specific games dedicated to the foundation. The Panthers’ 2019 Play4Kay game will take place on Mar. 3 at home against Louisville.

For White, this season has been a trying time as a first-year head coach. The team hasn’t won an ACC game yet and the team’s best player, redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg, has been out for most of the season due to blood clots.

Despite the tough season, White is excited to take on the game this Sunday against Miami, especially with the importance of having so many breast cancer survivors in the crowd.

“Well, I think the major thing for us is that as a team, is to know that there are things that are bigger than us,” White said. “I think this event shows us people are battling far worse things than the opponents that we have in the ACC … they’re dealing with life and death. For us, it’s a chance for our kids and everybody to know that there’s a lot more things more important than our daily battles.”

White is not the only coach to have dealt with this disease firsthand on this staff. Associate head coach Terri Mitchell has had her fair share of experience with breast cancer over the years as a person and a coach.

Mitchell has been involved with basketball, and breast cancer initiatives, for a long time. She played at Duquesne University in the Bluff during the late 1980s, spending 23 years coaching at Marquette University in Milwaukee and then as a special assistant at Arizona State University. During her time as a coach, she participated in breast cancer awareness events.

“We helped locally in Milwaukee,” Mitchell said. “People got mammograms that couldn’t afford them and at the same time we helped the national organization, Play4Kay. So we used the venue, but did the same thing. It’s something that most women’s basketball programs do and I love the commitment here at Pitt to do what they’re doing and we just want to continue to make this bigger and better every year.”

Just like White, Mitchell shares the same sentiments about the game and how it shows the team there are things bigger than basketball. She is also thrilled to use the Pete as a venue to highlight breast cancer survivors.

When she was a player at Duquesne, Mitchell said they never had an event like this at all, so she has always been willing to help when it comes to special games like this.

“I think that’s the great growth of women’s basketball,” Mitchell said. “Back then in the ’80s, it was more just about basketball. Now, we’ve aligned ourselves with great causes and have used … our platform to bring awareness, and so that’s what I absolutely love.”

Mitchell has watched two people close to her deal with the disease, which is why this game and the Play4Kay game are so important and close to her.

“My aunt, my mom’s sister, has battled it twice,” Mitchell said. “So it’s something that’s just watching her in the battle and seeing her in process to beat it once and then for it to come back and to have to fight again.”

This Pink the Petersen game features Pitt (9-14 overall, 0-9 ACC) and No. 25 Miami (19-5 overall, 7-2 ACC). The Panthers, who are winless in conference play, are looking for any way to get a win, especially in front of much bigger crowd.

First-year guard Jahsyni Knight wants to get a win on a night she feels empowers her as both a woman and a women’s basketball player.

“To me, it’s very powerful, like just being able to represent women who are going through these types of issues,” Knight said. “Just excited to play for them and represent breast cancer awareness.”