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What do March Madness stars listen to before tip-off? 13 players and coaches share their mixtapes

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As college basketball players head to NCAA Tournament arenas on their team buses, many will slip on headphones, zone out to a song and absorb the vibes. Coaches also sometimes take a small moment from poring over last-minute scouting reports to escape to a melody filtering through their airpods.

These soundtracks, perhaps subconsciously, serve an objective, too. Music can settle our nerves — or pump us up. A specific banger can provide a dose of confidence. A sentimental song might remind us of our grand purpose. “Music is the shorthand of emotion,” Leo Tolstoy once wrote.

So as March Madness gets underway, The Athletic wondered what these tournament-bound stars will be listening to before they compete in some of the most important games in their lives. We asked women’s and men’s tournament players and coaches to share their pre-game playlists. Players’ tastes ranged from Nicki Minaj to Veeze to even Elvis Presley. Coaches ranged from Gospel to AC/DC.

You won’t achieve the same jump shot as these athletes by listening to their hype music, but these playlists will get you ready (from your couch) for tip-off.


Women’s NCAA Tournament players’ mixtapes

JuJu Watkins

Guard | No. 1 USC

The brightest freshman in women’s basketball, Watkins has taken the Trojans to new heights this season. The Los Angeles native, who ranks second nationally with 27 points per game, listens mostly to hip-hop before games. But she always plays a song from “The Incredibles” soundtrack — one that could double for USC’s 2023-24 theme song: “Life’s Incredible Again.” It sure is in Los Angeles.

“I always play this before a game,” she says, “because I love The Incredibles and it hypes me up.”

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Guard | No. 3 LSU 

Question: Who do you listen to before games?

Flau’jae Johnson: Myself.

Now that’s baller. The athlete-rapper signed a distribution deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label, so why wouldn’t she vibe to her own lyrics before games? Perhaps she’ll create a mashup of “One Shining Moment” with her song “My Moment” if the Tigers repeat as national champions.

“I’m not trying to be like a pluggy, promote-y type of person, but they are all my songs,” Johnson says. “I listen to me before games. I make really motivating, uplifting music. When I listen to my songs, it makes me feel like I can do anything.”


Paige Bueckers

Guard  | No. 3 UConn

Bueckers is trying to advance to a third Final Four in her four seasons with the Huskies. Averaging 21.3 points while shooting nearly 54 percent, she’s enjoying a productive — and healthy — season. Her playlist is compiled to inspire, loaded with Gospel and modern hip-hop. Bueckers often plays Marvin Sapp’s “Thank You For It All.”

“This is a great Gospel song,” she says. “It helps me find my peace and gratitude before games.”


Forward  |  No. 5 Utah

Pili, a 6-foot-2 forward, has Utah back in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. One of the nation’s best – and most unique – post players, who averages 20.8 points per game while shooting 55 percent, she enjoys mostly hip-hop (from the early 2000s to now) before games.

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Her favorite pre-game song is “Up All Night,” by Drake (featuring Nicki Minaj). “It gets me hyped,” Pili says, calling the 2010 hip-hop single “old-school.”


Guard  |  No. 4 Virginia Tech

Amoore, a senior from Australia, averages 19.2 points and 6.9 assists per game. She’s trying to lead the Hokies back to the Final Four. A spunky guard on the court, it’s no wonder Amoore seeks songs that fuel her energy.

Her go-to pre-game song ”Never Lose Me” by Flo Milli builds her confidence. “I’m trying to get in my mood,” Amoore says. “Like, I’m that girl.” She likes Rihanna’s
“Love the Way You Lie” to tap into a little aggression. “I love feeling heartbroken,” she says, “so I’m gonna come out with my fists balled up.”


Women’s NCAA Tournament coaches’ mixtapes

These coaches have quite a bit of personal nostalgia sprinkled throughout their playlists.

LSU’s Kim Mulkey includes Brooks Jefferson’s “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” A native of tiny Tickfaw, La., the former four-time high school state champion clearly loves being reminded of her roots before leading the Tigers onto the court. She also listens to Mel McDaniel’s “Louisiana Saturday Night,” the Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn duet “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” and New Orleans legend Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”

As Mulkey puts it: “I’m a small-town Louisiana girl.”

Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s playlist is filled with South African Amapiano music and West African Afrobeat artists as the rhythms remind her of similar music from her childhood. McPhee-McCuin was born and raised in Freeport, Bahamas, before she came to the U.S. for college. “I’m an island girl, so I like anything that has a great Caribbean feel.” The seventh-seeded Rebels want to pull off some upsets like they did last season to advance to the Sweet 16.

Veteran coach Vic Schaefer led Texas to a Big 12 title and is aiming to win the top-seeded Longhorns’ first national title since 1986. A little piece of his heart seems to still be tied to Mississippi State, where he coached for eight seasons before moving to Austin. A favorite pre-game listen is Johnny Cash’s “Starkville City Jail.”


Men’s NCAA Tournament players’ mixtapes

Wing  |  No. 1 North Carolina

You need strengths at multiple positions to win an NCAA Tournament, and Ingram’s playlist is akin to a complete roster. He pulls from multiple eras and genres: a 2023 Veeze hit, a 2004 Snoop Dogg earworm and a 1972 Elvis Presley classic. “I just shuffle, and whatever plays, I just vibe,” he says.

Averaging 12.1 points and 9 rebounds per game, Ingram will be working to take the storied program back to the Final Four.


Chance McMillian

Guard  |  No. 6 Texas Tech

The junior is one of five Red Raiders averaging double digits with 10.6 points per game. McMillian hopes to help Texas Tech return to the Sweet 16 after losing in that round last season. You can’t be intimidated if you want to compete deep into March, and his music choices reflect that understanding. Listening to Youngboy’s “War With Us,” he says, “gets me ready to go out there and play and just simply be fearless.”


Center  |  No. 4 Auburn

The SEC tournament’s MVP wants to keep the good vibes rolling. To be the best, he listens to music that makes him feel like the best. At 6-foot-10, it’s no wonder he loves the song, “The Biggest.”

“He’s just talking about being the biggest and one of the best and basically just poppin’ your stuff,” Broome says. “It gets you hype, and the beat’s pretty good.”


Men’s NCAA Tournament coaches’ mixtapes

Boy, do these coaches love the ’80s.

UConn’s Dan Hurley is going for a championship repeat in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe one of his favorite pre-game songs — “Dream On” by Aerosmith — could be dedicated to the underdogs dreaming of upsetting his No. 1 seeded Huskies?

Hurley says he actually listens to it as tip-off nears for another reason. “To get my energy going,” he says.

Once Baylor players are on the floor for warmups, Scott Drew listens to Christian-themed music in the locker room for a few moments of pre-game solace. But don’t get him wrong; he’ll get fired up, too. Like Texas’ women’s coach Vic Schaefer, AC/DC’s thrasher “Thunderstruck” is a gameday favorite.

One line in Scandal’s 1984 hit “The Warrior” particularly ignites Drew: “And victory is mine.”

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; Photos of Paige Bueckers and Harrison Ingram: Paige: Jessica Hill / Associated Press, Grant Halverson / Getty Images)





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