VERMILLION — Madison McKeever comes from a small town.
Erskine, Minnesota: Population 400.
She went to a small school.
Win-E-Mac (comprised of four towns) has 430 students in Pre K-12 and McKeever’s graduating class had 36 students.
“And I had one of the bigger ones,” McKeever joked.
She truly is a small-town girl.
It’s not as though she jumped to a huge city (Vermillion has 10,000 residents after all), but McKeever is now a starting guard on a Division I women’s basketball at South Dakota that has realistic aspirations of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s unbelievable and hard to imagine,” she said this week.
“Thinking I’m part of one of the top-25 teams. Thinking that we have a chance to get to the tournament and hopefully make a run, it’s crazy to think about.”
It was something she never envisioned.
Sure, McKeever helped her high school team win a state championship her sophomore season and she eventually became one of that state’s all-time greats (she scored 3,298 points in high school), but Division I?
It didn’t seem possible, she said.
“It was crazy to even think I’d be playing for a Division I team,” McKeever added.
Everyone else likely had the same thought, as well.
Before McKeever signed with the Coyotes — a big event for her school and for Erskine — no other player at her high school had ever inked with a Division I program.
“For how small it is, I don’t think our community really understood what that meant,” McKeever said.
What McKeever did understand from an early age, though, was that basketball was something she really enjoyed.
She would ride to school with her father, Kevin, who was the school’s principal. They would arrive at 7 a.m. every morning, and McKeever would spend that next hour in the gym. Then, for an hour after school, she’d back in the gym — as well as on the weekends.
“Luckily he had the keys to the school,” McKeever joked. “I didn’t have to call anyone up.”
As her career blossomed and she realized she’d like to — given the opportunity, of course — eventually play basketball in college, McKeever said she and her family came to a realization: She would have to be proactive in the recruiting process to get her name out there.
In short, she had to bring herself to the coaches, rather than vice versa.
“We didn’t have a lot of access to many trainers or even the media, so I had to go and travel around,” McKeever said.
That travel included a 4.5-hour drive every weekend to Minneapolis for practice with an AAU team (Minnesota Fury), and that team would then travel around the country to play in various summer tournaments.
McKeever eventually committed and later signed with USD, which was coached at the time by Amy Williams. When Dawn Plitzuweit was hired at USD in 2016, she and her assistant coaches drove to meet McKeever, and spent time watching her high school and AAU video highlights.
Plitzuweit’s initial thoughts on McKeever?
“There are certain players who just have a different desire defensively, and she has that,” Plitzuweit said this week. “She has that light in her eyes and that fire in her belly.”
That’s how McKeever has become known in Vermillion: A pest for opposing guards.
Defense, she’ll tell you, has always been a passion — her 823 steals in high school ranks second all-time in Minnesota.
“That was my main go-to,” McKeever said. “It’s always something I’ve been good at.
“With my speed, it helps, and I’ve always liked pressuring the guards.”
It’s also one of the reasons Plitzuweit refers to McKeever as an “energy-giver” — she flies around and makes things happen on both ends of the court.
“Because of her size and versatility, she’s become a fan favorite with the way she plays and the way she carries herself,” Plitzuweit said.
“She makes it really fun for our fans to jump on board.”
Immediately, as well.
During her freshman season (2016-17) at USD, McKeever was the top reserve for the Coyotes and was named the Summit League’s Sixth Woman of the Year. And then last season, she was selected to the all-conference honorable mention team.
McKeever has followed that up with a junior campaign this season in which she is averaging 8.2 points, 3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals.
She and the Coyotes (26-4) — ranked No. 25 in one national poll this week — will open the Summit League Tournament on Saturday afternoon against North Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls.
While it’s unlikely that she’ll score 25 points or pull down 10 rebounds, McKeever will likely again factor significantly in USD’s performance.
It’s what she’s brought to the table for the Coyotes since leaving Erskine.
“I love her personality within all of it,” Plitzuweit said. “She has a very fun-loving, light-hearted personality.
“When she lets that shine, it’s so much fun to watch her on the court be competitive and be loose.”
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