Sasha Palmer wasn’t looking for a new job when she attended a convention for college basketball coaches during the NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four, but she left New Orleans with an opportunity too good to turn down.
It was in New Orleans where Palmer was approached by Quentin Hillsman of Syracuse, the 2008 Big East Conference Coach of the Year and the architect of an Orange team that finished the 2012-13 season with a 24-8 record and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“He came up and offered me a job right on the spot. That’s how it happened,” Palmer said. “I wasn’t looking for a job. I was happy at Pitt-Johnstown. I didn’t apply for anything.”
Palmer, who took over the Pitt-Johnstown program in 2007, told Hillsman that the chances of making a move weren’t good. She had a young daughter and her husband, Jamal Palmer, worked as an assistant for UPJ men’s basketball coach Bob Rukavina.
But, after some cajoling from her husband, Palmer agreed to become an assistant for Syracuse, where she will work with post players and serve as the team’s recruiting coordinator. Palmer’s departure from Pitt-Johnstown was first reported by The Tribune-Democrat in May, but Syracuse requested the hiring not be announced until June.
“It’s an opportunity and an offer I simply could not pass up,” Palmer said Sunday as she was returning to Johnstown from Syracuse.
“There were some players at the camp we’re recruiting and a big difference is now I can go up to anybody I want. Syracuse recruits a lot of international players and I have connections there from playing. I’ll be able to fly overseas. Actually, we fly everywhere, which is a lot different. Plus, it will be weird having an office right down from Jim Boeheim.”
Palmer returns to Syracuse on July 1 – her resignation at Pitt-Johnstown is effective June 30 – before her family follows in mid-July. Hillsman helped Jamal Palmer secure a coaching job at Division II Le Moyne.
Palmer leaves UPJ with an 87-80 record, including a 14-12 finish last season. After a 10-18 record in her first season, Palmer’s last five teams finished with winning records. She was hired to replace legendary UPJ coach Jodi Gault, who won 540 games in 25 seasons.
“Sasha stepped into a very tough situation,” Pitt-Johnstown athletic director Pat Pecora said in May. “It’s no easy task to come in and have to replace Jodi Gault, who had so much success. She did a nice job under difficult circumstances. The last couple of years, it really started to show.”
A search committee, led by Rukavina, was formed to find Palmer’s replacement and several candidates have been interviewed.
“There were a lot of tears when I told my team, but they understood why I was leaving,” Palmer said. “It was hard telling (Pecora) and Coach Rukavina. I grew close with all of them. It was almost an extended family.”