By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Jaiden McCoy had hit rock-bottom.
Once a can't-miss basketball prospect out of Farragut High School, she found herself at Old Navy working the retail life in her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Folding shirts and pants, assigning dressing rooms, working the register ... rinse, repeat, the rest of her time spent as a student at Pellissippi State College.
"I was bored," she said. "It was pretty depressing."
Her 6-foot-3 frame belonged on the hardwood, McCoy flashing a blend of power and finesse in the post that earned a scholarship to Louisiana Tech in 2016.
Yet adversity hit. And then it hit again. But she had dealt with roadblocks before.
At the beginning of her senior year at Farragut High, McCoy suffered a season-ending concussion.
"They said it was worse than a car crash," McCoy said. "I fell straight on my head after a player took my legs out."
Even with her prep swan song derailed, McCoy found a home at Louisiana Tech and with then head coach Tyler Summitt. Or so she thought.
Then the scandal hit, the son of Hall of Famer Pat Summitt resigning due to "an inappropriate relationship."
McCoy had to pivot for the 2016-2017 season, and she opted for Virginia Tech over Ole Miss.
She liked the campus, the school and the coach, but her heart was never in Blacksburg, Virginia. It didn't help that after McCoy signed the Hokies made the coaching move from Dennis Wolff to Kenny Brooks.
"I had to scramble and it just wasn't the right fit," McCoy said. "I went to the summer session and then quit in the middle of the first fall semester. I quit the week before the first official practice."
So back home she went, enrolling in Pellissippi State College and subbing out basketball practice for the retail life.
"Something was missing in my life," she said. "It was basketball. I called my dad back up and we instantly starting looking at schools."
"It was the perfect environment," said McCoy, who signed with the Raiders in June of 2017.
Yet adversity struck ... again.
After debuting for NWF State with 15 points, McCoy broke her hip in a fluke injury. Her season was done.
Yet she wasn't defeated. She never thought to quit. Rehabbing was the course, and she'd return stronger, faster, better.
Seven games into the season, she's done just that. Her 11 points and 5.3 rebounds a night have helped the Raiders to a 7-0 start and No. 2 national ranking.
"It was proving myself to me. I wanted to see if I could really do it, if I could still play through the injury," McCoy said. "My first jamboree I was freaking out a bit, but then I had a good game and just felt the nerves drop."
"Jaiden just continues to get better and better after battling through so much adversity," NWF State coach Bart Walker said. "It's pretty unbelievable what she's been through, and now she's healthy and a big part of our success."
And a big body that brings versatility.
McCoy's a self-professed "rim protector." The 6-3 playmaker prides herself on her post defense, and she's averaging a steal and a block a night to go along with 5.3 rebounds a game.
"My philosophy is don't let my man touch the ball," she said. "I'm pretty strong."
The defensive-minded approach fits in well collectively with the Raiders, who are forcing foes into 29 turnovers per game and limiting them to 40 points a night on 28 percent shooting from the floor and a 26-percent clip from 3. McCoy's post efforts have also helped offset the loss of Texas transfer Rellah Boothe, who went down in the preseason with an ACL tear.
"Everyone here is so talented," McCoy said. "We all bring something unique to the table and we work well together. We know how to win."
Continue to shoot like that, and NWF State has itself a premier center on both ends of the floor. And also a solid chance to repeat – if not surpass – last year's Elite Eight run in the national tournament.
"The goals for the team are to get to the championship and win it. That's our main goal," McCoy said. "To get there we're focused on winning every game week by week."