VALDOSTA - Ernest Scott has come a long way at Valdosta State. Just getting to the university was a trip in itself, but his progression on the basketball court since arriving has been even further.
Scott, a senior power forward for the No. 6 Blazers, was born in the Big Apple -- New York City. That's where his long travel in the literal sense began. The figurative sense is the one Valdosta State fans have watched and enjoyed for the past four years.
After a breakout season in 2003, Scott is again putting up better numbers this season than the year before. Second on the Blazers in both scoring (10.4 points per game) and rebounds (6.1 a game), Scott has never been the go-to guy on any team.
"When we need it, I'm here," he says.
But while Scott is steadily changing that image, there is one thing he has almost always been - a winner.
Scott moved to the Atlanta area from New York his junior year in high school and played sparingly for Marietta High's state championship basketball team in 1999. Scott played with former Georgia standout Ezra Williams, and also became acquainted with Marietta alum Dale Ellis, an NBA great during the 1990s. Ellis' son, Chris, also played with Scott and is now a sophomore at Wake Forest.
"When you see guys like that who were in the same situation as you, you tend to aim a little higher and feel that you can get things accomplished," Scott said.
Coincidentally, the '99 Marietta team defeated Valdosta High for the state title in overtime. Scott would later play with Wildcats Jeremy Brooks and Eric Washington at VSU.
"I had fun getting on them about that," Scott said.
Scott finally got his shot in 2000, earning a starting position in longtime Marietta head coach Charlie Hood's lineup. But it was short-lived.
Scott started first five or six games his senior season, but injured an ankle in a Christmas Tournament at Brookwood. He never regained his starting position after returning.
From there, "it was kind of a struggle," Scott says about getting colleges interested in him after limited playing time his entire high school career. Erskine (S.C.) College and Mars Hill (N.C.) College were the only ones that were interested.
And then there was Valdosta State, and newly hired head coach Jim Yarbrough.
"I didn't know anything about VSU, nor coach Yarbrough," Scott said. "My coach (Hood) knew who (former VSU assistant coach Todd Sheppard) was, and he gave me the tryout information and I just came down here, worked out. I guess I played good enough at the tryout that they offered me a scholarship."
Scott showed enough at the tryout that Yarbrough and the Blazers scrapped the bottom of the scholarship barrel in order to get the 6-foot-6 shooter aboard.
"He came in and impressed us," Yarbrough said. "With his HOPE money, we were able to put together enough to get him down here."
If you're looking for Yarbrough's first clutch recruiting move, that was probably it. To the present day, Scott and senior guard Chip Stroud are the only players remaining from Yarbrough's initial recruiting class of eight.
Yarbrough's knack for finding talent in untouched resources has become well-documented. Similar to his discovery of Scott, he also found the Blazers' 2003 leading scorer, John Prise, at an intramural pickup game.
"We kinda came out of nowhere," Scott says.
The first seven games of his freshman season, Yarbrough put the redshirt badge on Scott, but not for long. Because of a lack of depth off the bench, Scott averaged around 13 minutes the remainder of the season as a true freshman.
"If I had to do it over again, I probably would have redshirted, but being a freshman you don't really think about the future," Scott said. "But it was good to get into the environment and the biggest thing was learning (Yarbrough's) system. It's a very complicated system he brought from [the College of] Charleston."
After being tagged as a small forward his freshman year, Scott was forced to move to the post when former Valdosta State center Ben Bates quit the team in 2002.
"(The position change) was tough at first because I had to go from working on my shooting and ball handling to having to put weight on and play the post position," Scott said.
"But it got me on the court."
Said Yarbrough, "The reason he's been successful is he's come in here and played. It was the right time and right place, and he's come in and grown a lot and contributed."
Once unsure of a true position, Scott has found a definite spot at power forward, and improved his shooting prowess in the process.
Scott went 0-for-10 his junior year from three-point range and needed "a lot (of work) during the summer," he said. "Coach never had a problem with me shooting it, but he told me if you're going to shoot it, make it."
Scott decided to follow the coach's advice. This season, he's 19-of-50 from beyond the arc, and his 38 percent three-point percentage leads all starters.
"It was just getting the confidence to knock the shot down," Scott said. "Playing the four spot (power forward), a lot guys won't come out and guard me."
They will now. Scott connected on 5-of-8 from three-point land Saturday in a 65-48 win over West Florida.
"I think I hit too many that game," said Scott, whose team is now 18-1 overall, 7-0 in Gulf South play.
Yarbrough likes the changes he's seen in Scott since taking a chance on him his first season in Valdosta.
"Offensively, he has become a great weapon," Yarbrough said. "He's made himself into one of the league's better forwards. When someone doesn't want to come out and chase him ... he becomes invaluable in having another shooter on the floor."
Although the New York-born Scott has gone so far in his basketball career, he wants to go farther. How far?
Bakersfield, Calif., home of the 2004 NCAA Division II national championship game March 27.
"Last year was such a disappointment," Scott said. "I think this year we know what we have to do. We talked about it at the beginning of the year. There's only one game on national TV and a lot of us have family far away that would like to see us.
"It's been a long time since I've been to California."
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