Love of basketball, family carries Jennifer Bruce Scott into Pitt hall of fame
Monday, June 1, 2020 | 7:50 PM
Jennifer Bruce Scott began her AAU and high school girls basketball coaching career more than two decades ago, hoping to pass along the same passion and dedication to the game that drove her to four standout seasons on the Pitt women’s basketball team in the early 1980s.
The Monroeville resident started in high school at Winchester Thurston, moved to Penn Hills, coached four years at Gateway and finished as an assistant at Plum.
She now gives back to the game that gave her so much as a referee at the high school and small college levels.
The next steps Bruce Scott will take in her career of basketball accomplishments will be as a Class of 2020 member to Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I know, when they have the ceremony in October down at Heinz Field and all the other (inductees) are there, that’s when it will hit me, how big the honor is,” Bruce Scott said. “I wanted to set a high standard at Pitt and in college basketball, and I think I did that. All of the awards and honors are nice, but being able to say my kids (Shayla and Tyler) are the all-time leading scorers at Gateway and things like that, that’s big for me. I love things like that.”
One of Bruce Scott’s earliest forays into sports was swimming for the department of recreation in Pittsburgh while also watching her brother, Bruce, rise through the basketball ranks.
She soon started playing basketball, mixing it up in outdoor games with the guys, and by her freshman and sophomore years at Carrick, she began to realize her potential to play at the Division I level.
“I started to attend camps, including one at Pitt,” Bruce Scott said. “I also went to one in Philadelphia and W&J. I really started to figure out what my future could be in basketball.”
Bruce Scott is the second all-time leading scorer in Pitt basketball history — men’s or women’s — with 2,295 points, and she finished with a 20.5 point-per-game career average. The late Lorri Johnson, a 2019 Pitt hall-of-fame inductee, scored 2,312 points in four seasons.
Bruce Scott, who ranks fifth in program history in rebounds (998) and third in blocks (203), earned first-team All-Big East honors three times and was the 1984 Big East Co-Player of the Year.
She was named to the Big East Silver Anniversary Squad in 2008 and was the first Pitt recipient of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Women’s Basketball Legends award in 2014.
Today, the Pitt basketball teams play in the expansive Petersen Events Center, but Bruce Scott said she fondly remembers defending home court at the cozy Fitzgerald Field House.
“It gave you that close feel, like (Duke’s) Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the students were right there cheering you on,” she said.
It was at Fitzgerald Field House where former Panthers women’s coach Judy Sauer witnessed Bruce Scott take over games and lead her team to numerous victories.
“Jennifer was an inspiration to our team,” said Sauer, who guided Pitt to an 85-57 record in five seasons from 1980-85. “Our offense was centered around her, and defensively, she often guarded the other team’s biggest player. There’s no question she set the pace for us accomplishing all of our goals. She gave 100% every time she stepped on the court.”
Bruce Scott’s point total at Pitt came before the establishment of the 3-point line in women’s basketball for the 1986-87 season.
“I would’ve given her the green light at any time to take that shot,” Sauer said. “But she was such a team player. She would do whatever she could to help the team win games.”
Sauer said that in addition to her desire to give Bruce Scott and the other players the best chance to succeed on the court, she was just as pleased with the accomplishments off the court.
“I’ve got judges, lawyers, doctors and everything else,” Sauer said. “I’m sure Jennifer has made a difference in just as many lives as a nurse as she has in basketball.”
When Bruce Scott graduated from Pitt, there was no WNBA. She thought about turning pro overseas, but she also wanted to begin her nursing career. She remains in the medical field to this day as a nurse in the Allegheny Health Network.
Bruce Scott married former Duquesne standout Rod Scott, and they passed on their love of the game to Shayla and Tyler.
With Bruce Scott at the helm and Shayla as a focal point of Gateway teams from 2003-07, the Gators found success. They reached the highest level in 2004-05 and 2005-06 by going a combined 43-14 overall and 24-4 in section play with one section title and consecutive trips to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round.
Shayla followed in her mother’s footsteps at Pitt and helped lead the Panthers to a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. She then spent four years as an assistant women’s coach at La Salle and today is the athletic director at the Ellis School.
“Oftentimes, parents get the opportunity to feel really good about what their kids accomplish, and there may not always be the chance for it to happen in the reverse way,” Shayla said. “With her having so many honors and awards of distinction, to be able to call this person my mom and see her honored this way into Pitt’s hall of fame, I feel so proud.”
Tyler enjoyed success during his time on the Gateway boys team as a part of WPIAL Quad-A title runs in 2011 and 2012. He played at Kent State and John A. Logan College before completing his degree at Slippery Rock. He also gives back to the game as a high school and small college referee.
“She has a couple more years under her belt with officiating, so any time I need some advice and guidance, I will give her a call,” he said. “We’ll talk for a while, and she’ll give me some suggestions on how to become a better official in general.”
Tyler said he’s proud of his mother’s accomplishments at Pitt.
“So many people I’ve met told me how she was just a beast at Pitt and just an all-around great player,” he said. “She’s so excited to be inducted, and it will be such a fun experience for everybody.”