Azzi Fudd playing against Bishop McNamara in January Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Within the past two months, Azzi Fudd has experienced some of the biggest thrills and most crushing lows of her young basketball career. 

On Saturday, April 13, the prodigious 16-year-old sophomore at St. John’s College High School tore her anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee while playing in the Team USA 3×3 under-18 national championships at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

She will likely be out for her part or all of her junior season at St. John’s. USA Today first reported the news.

“Just the highs and lows of life,” Tim Fudd, Azzi’s father, tells City Paper. “It’s been a rough couple days for us. We’re kind of in the phase of researching … We just left rehab.”

Last season was nothing short of historic for Fudd, who is the No. 1 ranked girls’ basketball player for the Class of 2021, according to ESPN. In March, Gatorade named Fudd the National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. She’s the first sophomore to win the award.

She also led the St. John’s Cadets to a 35-1 record while averaging 26.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game. St. John’s won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and D.C. State Athletic Association tournaments and finished as the runner-up at Geico Nationals.

Saturday’s injury occurred when Fudd drove to basket and attempted to draw contact from a physical defender.

“I tried to do a hop for power and she hit me on the way up,” Fudd says in an phone interview. “My foot landed and my knee buckled.”

She knew immediately something serious had happened: “I heard a pop and snap and crack. It was one sound.”

Fudd is currently in a cast and waiting for her MCL to heal before getting surgery on her ACL. Both her parents are former high level basketball players and have suffered injuries.

Her father, an assistant coach at St. John’s, played at American University and professionally overseas. Her mother, Katie Smrcka-Duffy Fudd, is a local basketball trainer and former Georgetown University standout who became the first Hoya ever selected in the WNBA draft. Katie named Azzi after Jennifer Azzi, an Olympic gold medalist she idolized.

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Katie has torn born her ACLs, the first while she was a sophomore at James Madison High School in Vienna. The family recently drove to Indianapolis to visit Dr. K. Donald Shelbourne, who did both ACL surgeries for Katie. They will visit a Washington Mystics doctor on Monday. Katie tells City Paper that she did not have surgery until almost two months after tearing her ACL and it took three months post-surgery for her to play.

“It’s only been five days, but the first few days were by far the worst,” says Fudd. “I was really upset. My mom was like, ‘You have to try to be positive.’  … It was hard. I’m mostly over the sad part. I’m really just trying to stay positive. Last night I was in such a good mood, meeting with the doctor really knowing what’s going to happen, starting to visualize what’s going to happen. My mom told me surgery is going to be awful. I’m honestly looking forward to surgery … The cast is really hard. In physical therapy, I can push myself again.”

Fudd has already been compared to some WNBA greats like Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. The University of Maryland offered Fudd a scholarship when she was in sixth grade. College coaches often scout her high school games and Mystics star Kristi Toliver made it a point to watch her play this winter.

“The way she moves on the court hides her size,” Toliver told City Paper a few months ago. “She’s so fluid, a lot of it was effortless—speed, change of direction, her feel … She was just a sweet, sweet kid.”

Katie doesn’t want to predict when her daughter will be back on the court. She says that in the meantime they will do some stationary dribbling and shooting drills. “I think that’s great mentally, but also physically,” she says.

“I think we want to piecemeal this,” Katie adds. “Right now we’re focused on MCL. Once ACL surgery happens, we’ll see how her rehab is and how her progress is. It’s hard to have blanket statement of, ‘Oh, it’ll take six months, eight months.’ It’s up to individual. There’s no pressure. St. John’s supports her no matter what. That’s not in her mind. Obviously she wants to be back, but she’s not taking a step on the court until she’s ready.”

Coincidentally, the day after Fudd’s injury, reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon while playing in Europe and will miss the upcoming season. Stewart has vowed to come back stronger than before.

“This is just another obstacle that I will overcome,” she wrote in a social media post. “I’m thankful that I have so many people in my corner to help me every step of the way. I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Fudd has the same goal and is using Stewart’s positive approach as inspiration.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s really all my end goal is coming back stronger and better, and that’s my goal to come back,” she says. “You won’t be able to tell that I was out for however long I was.”