March 24, 2023 

For Madison Scott, Mississippi’s run was always the plan

‘This is Madi's program’

In October 2020, during Madison Scott’s freshman year media day, just 12 months after her original commitment, she harkened back to her visit to Mississippi. At the visit, Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, more commonly known as “Coach Yo,” and her staff laid out a clear path for the now-junior Scott: their goals, their belief, and where she could bring the program year by year.

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“The way she broke down my four years here was incredible. Their goals for me, where I would be as a junior, where I would be as a sophomore, what I’m supposed to be working on each year, was the best presentation I had at any of my visits. I actually saw myself here,” Scott said.

And perhaps part of their junior year plans was a trip to the Sweet 16, upsetting a No. 1 team and building a formidable program in the SEC led by Scott.

Coming to Mississippi despite all odds

After her visit, Scott announced in October 2019 she would be playing her college ball at the University of Mississippi. Scott, a five-star recruit out of Maryland’s Bishop McNamara High School who played with Angel Reese in AAU, was ranked in ESPN’s top 15 recruits of 2020.

Other than Mississippi, Scott was choosing between four schools: UCLA, Florida State, Miami and Maryland. The other schools were all top-25 programs. On the other hand, the year before Scott arrived on campus, Mississippi lost every single conference game, going 0-16, their worst conference record in Mississippi basketball history.

“When we were recruiting her, she had narrowed it down to five, and four of the teams were in the top 25. … You know we weren’t in the top 25 three years ago if we can’t get a vote now,” Coach Yo joked to media ahead of Friday’s game. “I went to her and said, ‘Look, we’re not in the top 25, but you can come here and you can help us get there if you believe.’”

When Scott got to Oxford, everything changed.

The McDonald’s All-American, the first in program history, saw an opportunity at Mississippi to build her legacy and be different in honor of something grander than her.

“I wanted to do something that necessarily wasn’t hot or popular at the moment, but I want to do something that would allow me to not only help build the program, but also build my legacy,” Scott said to The Next. “I wanted to make my family members and all of those who sacrificed for me proud. So, when it came down to it, I felt like this was the best place just to be able to grow every day and, and to be able to do things, break records.”

But for Scott, being different is the norm.

“I’ve always been different,” Scott said.

She first started playing basketball in first or second grade outside with her cousins from “sun up to sun down.” The moment she’d get home from school, she’d change her clothes and start playing. Playing in the neighborhood is where she found her love for the game. And no matter who was around, you couldn’t keep her off the court.

“I would be in school and I’d be the only girl that hooped,” Scott said. “All the other girls were doing other things at recess, I was on the blacktop with the guys. I was just different since I was younger.”

In just one season, alongside then-transfer and now-Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin, freshman Scott and the Rebels transformed the program’s fresh memories of loss to WNIT runners-up. In her sophomore season, they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 but were upset in the first round. Now, Scott and her team are in the Sweet 16.

Madison Scott embraces team after win over Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, March 19th, 2023, in Stanford, CA. (Photo credit: Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics)

The final minute in Palo Alto

On Sunday, No. 8 Mississippi beat No. 1 Stanford in a dramatic defensive showdown. Despite Scott sitting for much of the second and third quarters due to foul trouble, the Rebels led the game until a four-plus minute scoring drought in the final quarter, leading Stanford to tie the game. But Scott’s performance in the final 30 seconds is a microcosm of who she is on the court.

With just 26.5 seconds to go, a tied ball game, and Stanford possession, Scott dramatically stole the ball on a Cardinal pass and was immediately fouled. After sinking her two free throws and taking the lead for her the Rebels, she got back on defense, double-teaming Stanford senior Haley Jones alongside teammate Myah Taylor to cause another turnover with just 16 seconds left, essentially winning the Rebels the game. Scott says fending off meltdown during an offensive lapse and keeping their focus whistle-to-whistle is a recent breakthrough for the squad.

On the court, Scott brings a tenacious intensity and hyper focus, and on a team with the motto “We Defend,” Scott is key to the defensive fabric.

“What she brings to the team no one else can bring,” Mississippi guard Angel Baker told media. “What she’s able to do on both ends of the floor. She can defend well with her length. And then when she’s aggressive it’s a tough night for our opponent.”

The junior forward stands at 6’1; and Scott’s athleticism, coupled with her natural length, brings a unique skill set of both a bigger player and smaller guard. It allows her to be everywhere on the court, particularly with her on-ball defense.

“It allows me to guard defenders one through five,” Scott told The Next. “It also allows me to be versatile on offense. My length allows me to score against smaller defenders and try to reach out past bigger defenders.”

Scott registered 11 double-doubles on the season and averages 11.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg, securing her a spot on this year’s All-SEC Second Team and All-SEC Defensive Team.

“For me I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been able to play against Madi and then finally play with Madi. Just saying playing against Madi is no fun. She’s very tough,” Taylor said, invoking her days at Mississippi State. “Now being her teammate, being her PG, she always reminds me of that. I just think that she fuels everyone on the team. She is the battery in our bag. She just brings her length, her toughness, her grit. All those things have just been really been great for us.”

After bringing the signature Scott defensive tenacity Sunday, Mississippi pulled off one of their biggest wins in recent history. And for Scott, who came to Oxford to build a program stocked with wins like this, Sunday was awe-inspiring.

“All I can say is I’m just so happy. I’m so blessed. I’m so grateful. I’m just happy to be an Ole Miss Rebel. This is what I came here for,” Scott told media after the upset. “I’m just so happy, and I keep saying it because I believe it, we all believe it: We’re not done.”

In an era rife with transfer, Mississippi included, Scott is one of the ones who stayed. She’s seen Baker and Taylor come, Austin go, and plenty more personnel cycle in and out of Oxford. Although she’s just a junior, she’s a veteran on Team 48.

Coach Yo and Scott believed

“Madi means the world to this program. This is Madi’s program,” Coach Yo said to media. “She is continuously getting better. She wants to put Ole Miss on the map. She wants to do it for her family, herself, and she is an ultimate joy to coach.”

Coach Yo and Scott’s bond is intertwined in belief. Whether it’s their belief in each other, their faith or about making their program better, they believe together.

According to Scott, Coach Yo believed in her in ways that no other coach did. In March 2020, sequestered in her home on Zoom media, just weeks after the 0-16 season, Yo told media, “I thought we had a potential pro with Madison Scott, our freshman coming in.”

To Yo, Scott is the gold standard player. When she talks about how she coaches other players or her past years, it always comes back to Scott. In February, Yo told Andscape that the only two other players she has coached with Scott’s passion are WNBA champion Shavonte Zellous and Jonquel Jones, her Bahamanian National Team player and 2021 WNBA MVP.

And their belief has never shaken.

“I love you, Coach. … Even in a game like today where nobody thought we could play in this game with Stanford, nobody thought we could win; she believed in us,” Scott said in Palo Alto. “So we went out there; and having a coach that believes [and pushes] you to be great every single day, we out there and gave it everything we had for her.”

After Sunday’s game, Scott’s high school coach Erica Calhoun tweeted out a series of photos from Scott’s Mississippi signing and when they beat Stanford. In both, Coach Yo and Scott embrace in tears.

The pressure is a “privilege”

Whether it be back home, in Oxford, to the SEC community or even on the court, there are a lot of eyes on Scott, and she’s constantly thinking about making them proud.

In the locker room after Mississippi’s loss to South Carolina in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, Scott was visibly upset. She told The Next she hadn’t stepped up, and the team “didn’t play Ole Miss women’s basketball.”

Anyone who hears just a few words from Scott, win or lose, can tell she puts a tremendous amount of pressure on herself. And in the SEC itself, pressure is everywhere. But according to Scott, the pressure is an opportunity.

“I feel like we’re built for it. So the pressure in a way is a privilege. I feel like we’ll do just fine with the pressure,” Scott said.

Rooted in all this pressure is a commitment to teamwork and love. Every single answer Scott gives always comes back to her teammates. Where does her intensity come from? Her teammates. Why is she so clutch? Her teammates. Why does she want to build a legacy? Her teammates.

“We don’t want to have any regrets. We truly love each other and we truly believe in all the hard work that we’ve put in. We believe in ourselves,” Scott said. “So to play in the SEC tournament and not play to the standard, to not play with great pride, with Ole Miss across our chest, we felt like not only did we let ourselves down, but we let a lot of people down.”

But all this pressure makes the winning and the accolades so much sweeter. Scott, who was the SEC Freshman of the Year and hit a bit of a statistical decrease her sophomore season is now an SEC All-Second Team and SEC All-Defensive Team member. She told The Next at this year’s SEC Media Day that the accolades are just an afterthought, “when the team wins, personal accolades will follow,” she said.

But after receiving this year’s awards, Scott was full of emotion.

“I got emotional when I say it because doing what we do, being student athletes, it’s not easy. It’s a roller coaster. There’s good days and bad days. There’s ups and downs. But we work so hard. I work so hard. I just want to do whatever I can to help my team,” Scott told media in February. “To get those awards it just showed me that the sky is the limit, and there is so much more I can do, and I can’t wait to show that.”

And that immediate future, beyond the NCAA Tournament, remains in Oxford.

“As coach always says, ‘The train only stops twice: to let people on and to let people off,’” Scott frequently quotes. And for Scott, the train isn’t stopping just yet. Scott told The Next on Wednesday she plans to return to Mississippi next year.

Other than more time with Coach Yo, Scott is not exact on what her future holds, harkening back to the team’s #NoCeilings mantra. When asked about what the future goals at and beyond Mississippi, she knows it’s going to be basketball, but she doesn’t want to put a cap on it.

“I know if I put in the work and believe anything can happen,” Scott said.

And whether it be in Friday’s 10 p.m. ET game against Louisville or her future seasons, Scott always plays for something much larger than her. Whether it be her teammates, legacy, Coach Yo, her faith or the support system that got her here, Scott’s game is much bigger than just her.

Written by Gabriella Lewis

Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.

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