BY MIKE FIELDS-from Khsaa.org
One of the first steps Maddie Scherr took on the road to becoming a basketball star was, of course, a Euro step.
She was just a fourth-grader when she learned the deft offensive move from her older brother Cooper and his buddies.
“I played with him and all his friends in our backyard, and they taught me all the cool stuff, like the Euro step,” Maddie said.
When she played AAU ball as a fifth-grader for the Kentucky Royals, her precocity wasn’t taken for granted. Before games, Royals coach Tricia Macke would have Maddie demonstrate her Euro step to the referees so they wouldn’t mistakenly call traveling.
Rick and Amy Scherr laugh when they recall those early days of their daughter’s basketball career.
When she was still in the fifth grade, they were — ahem — a tad skeptical when she set a few lofty goals: winning a state championship; earning Miss Basketball and McDonald’s All-American honors, and being able to pick and choose where to play college hoops.
Seven years later, she’s reached almost all of those goals.
As a junior last season, the 5-foot-11 playmaker averaged 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.2 steals while leading Ryle to the Sweet Sixteen title. She was named Gatorade’s Player of the Year in Kentucky, and later in the spring she committed to national power Oregon (where she’ll join Erin Boley, Kentucky’s 2016 Miss Basketball).
As a senior, she’s averaging 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, and has Ryle back in the state tournament for the third year in a row. She’s already earned Gatorade POY honors again. She’s become the first player from Northern Kentucky invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game. And she’s favored to win Miss Basketball when that award is announced in a few weeks.
Unfortunately, Maddie didn’t get to play in Ryle’s first-round 59-36 win over Letcher County Central on Wednesday afternoon in Rupp Arena. A bad ankle kept her on the sidelines, much to her chagrin.
“I was very antsy sitting there on the bench,” she said afterward. “When it was close in the beginning, I took off my warm-up, and was like, ‘I’m ready if you need me!’ If it got to the point where they did need me, they would’ve put me in.
“Or,” she added with a smile, “I would’ve put myself in.”
If Maddie Scherr doesn’t lack for confidence, it’s because she was told to believe in herself early and often.
“Tricia Macke told Maddie she could do anything,” Amy Scherr said. “I think that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. She told Maddie, ‘You’re great!’ And Maddie was like, ‘OK.’”
Maddie credits Macke, Sara Piepho and Abby Jump for instilling that can-do attitude before she even got to high school.
“They all told me I could be the best, but to get there I had to keep working to get better,” she said. “That was the main point with all three of them.”
Maddie’s self-assurance was reinforced by her Kentucky Premier AAU coaches, including Dave Tapley, Trent Milby, Anthony Epps and Nick Cann.
“They were even more with the confidence thing,” she said. “They never stopped trusting me or telling me, ‘This is your team.’ That’s what got me here.”
Rick Scherr said he thinks Jump “probably had the biggest basketball influence on (Maddie’s) life.”
Jump was a standout at Ryle, too, and had a solid career at Wright State (Class of 2014). She’s been in college coaching a few years, including stints at Bucknell and Morehead State. She’s now back at Wright State as an assistant.
In between coaching stops, Jump returned to her old Kentucky home in 2016 and happened to catch Ryle playing in the regional tournament. She was blown away by the Lady Raiders’ point guard, an eighth-grader named Maddie Scherr.
“She was unbelievable,” Jump said. “I knew right then she was going to be the best player in the 9th Region.”
Since Jump was going to be home for a few months, she contacted Maddie’s parents and offered to work with their daughter. They thought it was a great idea.
“Ryle lost in the region finals, and after Maddie took a day off, we went to work,” Jump said. “We were in the gym for hours, working and working. She was just eating it up.”
“I was about 22 at the time, so I was working on my craft, too, of coaching and skill development. I can tell you this, all those days and hours in the gym, the student taught the teacher a lot of things. I may have helped her some, but she prepared me for my job, too.”
Ryle Coach Katie Haitz welcomed Jump’s involvement, and she knows she helped strengthen Maddie’s work ethic.
“The thing is, everybody wants to be great,” Haitz said. “The question is, are you going to put in the time to be great? Maddie has the mentality that somebody somewhere is going to be better than her if she doesn’t’ continue working on her craft.
“She’s never content to be where she is. There’s always something she can work on to be better.”
Jump thinks some fans misread a basketball player’s desire to excel as a purely selfish endeavor.
“When a kid gets a lot of acclaim and a lot of success, some people think that’s what they worked for and wanted. But that’s not the case with Maddie,” Jump said. “She wanted to win. That’s the No. 1 thing with her. She wanted to win the 9th Region and a state championship. When you have that mindset, you want to be a great teammate, too. That’s Maddie’s mentality.”
Despite having the credentials of a basketball star, Maddie doesn’t get caught up in her celebrity.
“Rick and Amy have helped her be so grounded,” Jump said. “She’s such an impressive kid. With all the accolades and talent she has, she remains so humble.”
Amy Scherr said her daughter’s even-keel personality has served her well.
“We knew from the beginning that sports is going to end someday. You never know what’s going to happen, with injuries and stuff. So we downplayed everything. We encouraged her to reach for her goals, but we didn’t want to make her life all about basketball.”
Maddie appreciates how her mom and dad have always been there for her.
“I mean they’ve done everything for me,” she said. “They’ve been the perfect basketball parents and off-the-floor parents. They’ve always supported me in everything I’ve done.”
That includes supporting her college decision. While Maddie’s sister Samantha and her brother Cooper attend nearby NKU, she’ll be 2,400 miles away at Oregon.
That’s what makes this week so tough on her parents, whether Ryle repeats as state champion or not.
“It will be sad,” Amy said. “I’m excited for Maddie because she’s excited about going to Oregon. She’s OK. I’m sad because she’s my baby and she’s leaving.”
Rick has what he calls “bittersweet” emotions.
“In a sense, I hate for her high school career to be over, but I also see that she’s got a lot ahead of her, so let’s get to that.
“We adore the Oregon coach, we adore the program, and we think it’s the best fit for Maddie.”
Go West, young lady. Take that first Euro step to Eugene.