One by one, high-level colleges came to see Stephen Madison, and slowly they started to disappear.
Madison was a prolific scorer at Prairie High in Vancouver, Wash., and later transferred to Portlands Jefferson High, where as a senior he averaged more than 18 points a game on a team with two teammates now in the NBA.
But the 6-foot-6 standout wasnt yet fully qualified, the product of a lack of effort in the classroom.
Id talk to Pac-10 schools, Marquette, Oklahoma, but every time they said, Its the grades thing, Madison said. They had to play the waiting game, and most didnt want to.
Idaho coach Don Verlin knew he had an opportunity to get a special player when he signed Madison in the spring of 2010, and also saw one who was going to work for that chance.
Now a senior, Madison has 1,035 career points and will graduate in the spring.
The thing that stands out is that he hasnt just improved in one area, its that hes worked so hard to get better in every facet, Verlin said. Hes consistently improved as a scorer. Hes worked out harder and is a better rebounder. He wasnt a great student, and hes graduating in four years.
Madison is Idahos leading scorer through six games with 15.8 points per game. He averaged 3.7 points per game as a freshman, 12.1 as a sophomore and 14.1 last season.
Choosing Idaho instead of going to a junior college first, Madison wanted to start a path toward immediate improvement.
I felt at times like on the court things were easy, and that translated off it, that I didnt need to worry about school, Madison said. Coach Verlin saw potential in me, and they showed a lot of faith in me. I wanted to repay it. I hadnt come close to reaching my capabilities in most ways. Some people need a little motivation.
Among those coaches who saw Madison in Vancouver and Portland was then-Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice. Prairie grad Dan Dickau was an All-American for the Bulldogs in the early 2000s. At Jefferson, big-name coaches came by all the time to see teammates Terrence Jones and Terrence Ross, now with the Rockets and Raptors, respectively.
Now Boise States head coach, Rice has been reminded of why he went to see Madison as a high schooler he has scored 28 points in rivals last two meetings.
Ive watched him back to Prairie High School, so I know him pretty well. Hes a really good athlete who can score a lot of different ways, Rice said.
Madison has hit 7-of-19 3-pointers, 22-of-29 free throws and is averaging a team-high 7.5 rebounds a game, providing a versatile option on a team with 10 newcomers.
You can play him inside or outside, move him around, and thats big for us, Verlin said.
Motivation, which was once an attribute lacking for Madison, now is in abundance. He has a 1-month-old daughter, Harper. After graduating, he hopes to play professionally before seeking out a career as a coach.
Then there is something he hasnt done that is very important to the Vandal faithful. I havent beaten Boise State, Madison said.
He gets one more chance Wednesday in Boise as his college career starts to wind down but not before he appreciates what the last few years in Moscow have meant.
No way its possible without the people around me, he said. Theyve pushed me to get better, and I have. The whole process has been rewarding.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn