ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Taliah Scott knows that her talent in basketball is going to take her places.
And not just any place, either.
As far as Scott can go, she plans to go there. If she needs to work on an area of her game to get there, Scott will attack it harder than she does the basket.
The five-star junior guard for the St. Johns Country Day girls basketball team wants to be the best. She’ll tell anyone who asks that and has the game and the credentials to back up that confidence.
Scott is lighting up opposition at a ridiculous clip. She leads the state in scoring at 33.3 points per game and ranks sixth nationally in that category. Scott has taken a solid small school program in the Spartans and elevated them into a legitimate contender to reach the state semifinals in Lakeland.
Scott, an Arkansas commit, has had games of 56 and 50 points this season, the latter of those coming Thursday night in a 72-43 win over Ridgeview. Scott has outscored eight of the Spartans’ 19 opponents by herself. And the junior 5-9 guard is just getting warmed up.
She’s scoring at a staggering clip, but Scott said that she’s actually put more of an emphasis on rebounding and honing her jump shot.
“Every year, I just try to progress a little bit in a certain area. So this year, I feel like my game has really taken a jump from last year. And I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable what I’m doing. I’m just a lot better than I was last year,” she said. “Over the course of the year, I feel like it’s shown and I’m ready to see what else I can do.”
To put in perspective just how elite a player of Scott’s level is, consider these nuggets. Since the HoopGurlz recruiting rankings on espnW began in 2011, the News4JAX North Florida coverage area has had three players ranked in the top 50.
Ribault’s Kayla Brewer and Potter’s House’s Loliya Briggs ranked 43rd and 50th, respectively, in the class of 2011. And Ribault’s Rennia Davis, a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic All-American and the area gold standard of women’s basketball for body of work at the three major levels (high school, college and WNBA draft status) ranked 12th in the class of 2017.
Scott currently ranks ninth in the class of 2023. And that ranking is all fine and good, but Scott wants more. A lot more. She doesn’t get caught up in rankings but said that she was humbled to be recognized by area girls basketball players as head and shoulders above the rest.
News4JAX polled 51 girls players before the season on who the top girls player was and Scott was picked on nearly 40% of those surveyed, a staggering margin considering players tend to vote for themselves or teammates in those anonymous ballots.
Rankings are a nice window dressing, but Scott has a bigger picture in mind.
“I want to be in a Hall of Fame one day. I want to be like the best player to ever do it. And so, me and my dad we talked about it. … He asked me what I wanted to do with basketball, and I told him. And so, we laid it out. Well, you can’t just be just a scorer,” she said.
“You have to do every single part of the game and you have to do it at a really high level. And so, I always keep that in the back of my mind. Like when I play, like I want everybody to know I’m the best player on the court. And for them to know that, I have to excel in rebounding, I have to excel in defense, I have to excel in play making, scoring, everything. And I have to do it at a high level.”
Spartans coach Yolanda Bronston knows that the program bottled lightning when Scott, who led Oakleaf to the Class 7A state semifinals last season, transferred to the program. Instead of needing to lean heavily on returning leading scorer Mary Kate Kent for another playoff push, St. Johns packaged the sophomore with Scott and held on tight.
What has transpired has been a front-row seat to watching one of the best high school girls basketball players that the area has seen.
“Taliah is the best player I’ve ever coached. I’ve coached at the youth level, I’ve coached at the high school level, I’ve coached at the Division II, Division I level. She’s a pro. She’s a pro,” Bronston said.
“You know that game last night, I mean, even as her coach, you know, as I’m standing there and giving direction, sometimes I just turn to my assistants; ‘you see what she just did?’ OK. She’s amazing, she really is. Her work ethic is just so far beyond her years.”
Scott said that she’s a continuous work in progress, refusing to buy in to the hype or that she’s already committed to coach Mike Neighbors and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Every chance to get better, Scott said that she takes it.
“My dad, he played basketball too. So, a lot of like my basketball knowledge has come from him. And then someone like my earlier coaches. So, we’d like sit down, we watch film, we break down the game. We watch other teams, we watch NBA games, we watch WNBA games, we watch college games. We sit down, we break down film, we take bits and pieces that they think that will really help me,” she said.
“Like how my dad always says, like you don’t really have one huge deficiency. You just have areas where you can go from great to legendary, you know, and so that’s basically what we work on. We try to pinpoint those things, then workouts that’s what we focus on.”
Scoring has never been an issue for Scott. She entered this season having scored 1,167 career points at larger programs (4A Bolles and 7A Oakleaf), but Scott said that she needed to refine her game away from long range and the dribble and drive.
“The big thing was getting into the mid-range more because everybody knows I can get all the way to the basket. Everybody knows I can shoot,” she said. “So, it’s finding that good in between if, let’s say they’re fouling me a whole bunch at the basket and I’m not getting those calls and my 3s not falling, then finding a way to still be effective offensively in that mid-range game.”