Madison Scott crucial to revival of Ole Miss Rebels basketball team
Junior forward wants to rebuild program and connect with a coach beyond basketball
Whenever Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin brings someone new to campus, whether that be a new coaching hire, a new transfer, or a potential high school recruit, she can always expect the same burning question from her junior forward, Madison Scott.
“Coach, do they believe?” Scott will ask.
Belief has been the foundation of Scott’s time at Ole Miss. It was cultivated when Scott, recruited by multiple Top 25 programs out of high school, saw an opportunity in McPhee-McCuin and Ole Miss to help reinvent the culture of a program that had been dormant for more than a decade. It’s been nurtured and strengthened through two exceptional seasons that have thrust the Rebels into relevance.
That unwavering belief has also been the driving force in Scott’s relationship with the sport. A belief in her ability to make herself one of the best on whatever court she steps on. And a belief that her process will meet her aspirations.
When watching Scott compete for Ole Miss, it doesn’t take long to see her passion for the game manifest itself through the palpable energy she releases on a made bucket, or her animated facial expressions in reaction to a big-time defensive stop.
Basketball has opened doors for Scott that she hadn’t thought imaginable. She plays with a profound gratitude for the game – motivated by family and a desire to leave a legacy wherever she plays. This season, with the Rebels on a mission to prove that their recent success is sustainable, she’ll have an opportunity to add to her legacy at Ole Miss.
“Basketball has taken me so many places, so many beautiful places, and it’s so much more to come, God willing,” Scott said. “To see all of this happen because of the game, it just means so much to me.”
“She’s like neck and neck with wanting it as much as I do. It just shows belief. The belief in coming somewhere and doing something that may not be as sexy to everybody else but making it into something that she always dreamt of.”
— Yolett McPhee-McCuin
Scott heads to Ole Miss
When McPhee-McCuin took the job at Ole Miss in the spring of 2018, she called her friend and AAU coach Ron James, coach of Team Takeover in Washington.
“I called him and I said, ‘Hey, man, I need some ballers. Give me some names,’ ” McPhee-McCuin recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to give you two names, whichever one you feel a connection with, recruit.’ ”
One of those two players was Scott, who besides playing on Team Takeover with players such as Mir McLean (Virginia) and Angel Reese (LSU), was playing her high school ball with teammates such as Aliyah Matharu (Florida), Jakia Brown-Turner (NC State) and Liatu King (Pittsburgh).
Scott and McPhee-McCuin connected quickly. They share Caribbean heritage – McPhee-McCuin is a native of Freeport, Bahamas, and Scott’s mother is from St. Croix. McPhee-McCuin was drawn to Scott’s character and her maturity.
“I didn’t call her every day, It wasn’t like that. But whenever we linked up, it was energy,” McPhee-McCuin said.
When the time came to commit to a collegiate program, Scott was driven to be different from her peers. By that time she had become a five-star recruit, the No. 13 prospect in the class of 2020 and an eventual McDonald’s All-American. She’d received offers from powerhouse programs such as Maryland and UCLA. Ultimately, Scott wasn’t interested in playing for an established power.
Instead, she wanted to go to a program that she could help rebuild and play for a coach she connected with beyond basketball. At Ole Miss, which was the only school not in the Top 25 recruiting Scott, she saw opportunity, and in “Coach Yo,” she found that mentor.
“I came here for Coach Yo – to be coached by someone who was not only going to push me, but also encourage me, support me and just help me grow,” said Scott, who became the first McDonald’s All American, female or male, to commit to an Ole Miss basketball team.
While Scott and McPhee-McCuin’s relationship is bolstered by mutual admiration, the power of their bond lies in their stubborn and unwavering belief to successfully reestablish Ole Miss, a program that once advanced to the Elite 8 or Sweet 16 in six straight seasons from 1985 to 1990.
When McPhee-McCuin took control of the Rebels, the team hadn’t been to the tournament or posted a winning conference record since 2007. Scott, meanwhile, joined an Ole Miss team that the year before her arrival had gone 0-16 in conference play – McPhee-McCuin’s second season as coach.
“She’s like neck and neck with wanting it as much as I do,” McPhee-McCuin said. “It just shows belief. The belief in coming somewhere and doing something that may not be as sexy to everybody else but making it into something that she always dreamt of.”
Neither Scott nor McPhee-McCuin have eased off that belief. In Scott’s first year, the team finished with McPhee-McCuin’s first winning season and finished as the runner-up in the WNIT. In Scott’s second year, the team finished 23-7, won its most conference games in a season since 1991 and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.
Moving on from Shakira Austin
Despite its success last season, some were skeptical that Ole Miss could continue to thrive this year, mostly due to the absence of Shakira Austin. Austin, who transferred from Maryland during Scott’s freshman season, was the star of the Rebels in her two years with the program. The star center was a two-time All-SEC first team selection and was taken No. 3 overall in the 2022 WNBA draft.
This year’s team heard the chatter and entered the season determined to shift the perception. Junior forward Snudda Collins says this year’s team is more together, tougher, grittier.
“Last year, we were playing under Shakira and a lot of people just saw Shakira. There’s a lot of us who weren’t able to actually showcase what we’re able to do,” Collins said. “This year, we’ve decided to just let everyone know who we really are and what we are capable of.”
“Coach Yo always says the train only stops twice, to let people on and to let people off. The train has to keep going,” Scott said. “We’re still trying to build Ole Miss up. … We’re not done. We’re not satisfied. We’re not finished.”
Scott approaches the game with an extreme curiosity, committed to learning the ins, outs and whys of a coach’s decision or direction. Operating within that curiosity is also an understanding of process, and knowing the results she seeks are a part of a longer journey. Unfortunately for McPhee-McCuin, the speed of process progresses on an immovable timetable.
During Scott’s first two seasons, McPhee-McCuin struggled to get her budding player to run the lane, aggressively call for the ball, get to her kill spot inside the paint or grab the ball off the rim and push it up the floor.
“She just wouldn’t do it,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Having Madi in my program for two years, I’m fully aware that I can’t rush her into doing what she needs to do. It’s been on her time.”
The absence of Austin has pushed Scott to step up for the Rebels. In her junior season, McPhee-McCuin has marveled at Scott’s evolution as she excels at moves that she once hesitated to adopt.
“What you’re seeing right now from Madi that we hadn’t seen is her willingness to be vulnerable,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Her willingness to make mistakes. Her willingness to fail. … She’s come out of that cocoon. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Through 20 games, Scott is having a career season for the Rebels, averaging 12.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. Ole Miss is 16-4 overall with a 5-2 record in SEC play, and is fourth in the conference behind LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Scott is a 6-foot-1 forward who helps to protect the paint for Ole Miss, but is comfortable playing like a guard. Her growth as a vocal leader holds equal importance. Scott is the glue for Ole Miss as it rides the ups and downs of a contest. Collins calls her an extension of McPhee-McCuin on the floor.
“Every night, every practice, I need to be that leader.” Scott said. “I’m still growing in that aspect but definitely … it’s one of my jobs to be vocal. I take pride in that.”
‘You’re a pro!’
During an offensive possession in the fourth quarter of a January game against Mississippi State, a game that was Ole Miss’ first victory over the Bulldogs in Starkville since 2007, Scott held possession on the right side of the court, defended by star Bulldogs center Jessika Carter.
As Scott caught the ball, she ripped through to her left hand and took Carter, who leads the SEC in blocks, one-on-one, finished with a layup across the lane on the left side of the rim. After the score, Scott looked at McPhee-McCuin on the sideline.
“ ‘You’re a pro!’ ” McPhee-McCuin yelled at Scott. “Right then and there I’m like, this chick is bananas.”
If Scott is to be drafted to the WNBA following her senior season in 2024, it’ll be because of her ability to fill up a stat sheet. McPhee-McCuin and her staff are focused on packaging Scott as a player who can play both ends of the floor, defend all five positions, and whose high motor can power a team.
Scott’s activity on the floor is what separates the junior from her peers. She wants to be involved in every play or action and harnesses that high energy into anything from an effective screen to a blocked shot. When she does, good things often happen for the Rebels.
“I want to be a player you could put in multiple positions and I’m going to make something positive happen for my team to be successful,” Scott said.
McPhee-McCuin said Scott’s development is still a work in progress as she continues to add to her skill set.
“Wait till you see her next year when I’ve got her shooting the 3,” McPhee-McCuin said. “There’s some people that you see and you automatically know where they’re going to be. I couldn’t tell you how good Madi is going to be, I just know that she’s not done growing.”
Passion for the game
In some ways, Scott feels indebted to basketball, grateful for the doors that she believes would have remained closed had she never played the sport. Scott loves the game because, in some ways, it gave her a way out. It allowed her to see places she couldn’t have gone and meet people whose paths she would have never crossed.
When Scott looks at the tall challenge she’s undertaken to help change the culture at Ole Miss, she does so as someone who has already overcome her own challenges off the court.
“Growing up was a challenge in itself,” Scott said. “I had a great family, great mom, great dad. Worked tremendously hard. They did so much for me and my siblings. But of course, young parents, even with all that work, there were just some things that just happened.”
On the days where the daily grind of a basketball season wears on Scott, or when doubt about her ability or path creeps in, she can find a sense of stability with a slight turn of her left forearm. Three names tattooed on her arm, London, Summer and Zion, Scott’s younger siblings, whom she affectionately calls her three “rug rats,” are her main motivation.
“They don’t play sports, they’re different. They’re into technology. One is very artistic. One is the best drawer I’ve ever seen — maybe I’m a little biased,” Scott said.
Scott doesn’t hesitate to spoil her siblings. Anything they want, Scott finds a way to get it for them. As her siblings pursue their own paths, they have their older sibling as an example.
“Those are my hearts and I want to be in a position to help them out any way they need and help guide them — show them that they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Over the course of her coaching career of nearly 20 years, McPhee-McCuin said she’s only coached two players that have played with the same type of passion as Scott: WNBA champion Shavonte Zellous and 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones.
“They were incredibly passionate about making a way for themselves and their family,” McPhee-McCuin said.
When Scott struggled early in her Ole Miss career as she adjusted to collegiate play and the expectations of her coach, McPhee-McCuin knew it would be short-lived. Even when Scott was trying to figure things out, McPhee-McCuin bet on the fact that Scott’s purpose to succeed would overcome any barrier.
“Her why is so overpowering that she just has to perform at some point,” McPhee-McCuin said.
Perhaps larger than Scott’s passion for basketball, is her passion for people and connecting with others.
“Sometimes people watch my game and probably think I’m mean or I’m real hard and tough. Off the court, I’m really soft. I care tremendously about everyone,” Scott said. “I’m really about loving on people and showing people how much I love them by being me, by being there for them.”
In the locker room, Scott takes it upon herself to uplift the teammate who has fallen into a slump, or listen to another in need.
That care extends to people she’s never met.
During a summer trip to Atlanta with her teammates, Scott was approached by a woman as she was walking down a city block. The woman was in need, asking passersby for assistance from those who would listen to help her take care of her family.
“I was pretty sure that she was pregnant at the time and all I could think about was my mom being pregnant and sometimes needing some help. Never to that extent, but close,” Scott said.
According to Collins, who was with Scott on the trip, the woman hadn’t even finished asking Scott for help when Scott reached into her pocket and gave her money.
“Even though I didn’t know her, I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone,” Scott said. “Everybody has their struggles and everybody needs somebody at some point. It was important for me to do that.”
Despite still being in the early stages of her basketball career, Scott is already thinking about her future as a Division I coach where she can impact the next generation of hoopers.
Perhaps more of a priority for Scott is how she can use basketball as a tool to give back.
“I want to be a resource for people,” Scott said. “I want people to be able to depend on me or depend on whatever programs I’m able to start up.”
When Scott visits her mother’s home in St. Croix, she’s disheartened by poverty she witnesses, recalling once driving past an urgent care facility on the island where a line of people wrapped around the building.
“I want to be able to go back and give back,” Scott said. “I want to use basketball and all the people I meet and all the places I go and just take back so much with me and spread it out to everyone.”
As Scott continues her basketball career at Ole Miss and beyond, driven by her belief and propelled by her purpose, she continues to be grateful for each opportunity she’s had as a result of the game and excited about the opportunities still to come.
“I plan to take advantage of this opportunity, do everything I need to do to be successful in this game so not only my family is taken care of, but also communities are taken care of,” Scott said. “I really do want to impact the world in a big way.”