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Kiki Rice doesn’t typically cry, but Thursday afternoon brought plenty of emotions out of the Sidwell Friends senior.
“I don’t cry a ton, but I guess I was as close to that as I could get,” she says. “I was shocked.”
Rice, a UCLA signee and point guard for the undefeated No. 1 girls’ high school basketball team in the nation, was named the Gatorade National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year in a surprise ceremony at Sidwell, adding another national award to her resume. Earlier this month, Rice won the Naismith High School Player of the Year award. On Thursday, her coach, Tamika Dudley, told the players they were going to have a photo shoot and media session for an upcoming tournament. Instead, when Rice and her teammates settled into a conference room at Sidwell’s athletics center, WNBA legend Sue Bird greeted them on a projector.
“I also have some pretty dope news for you, Kiki,” Bird said. “Not only are you the state Gatorade player of the year, you’re the national Gatorade player of the year.”
Rice’s parents then walked out of the closest with the trophy, as her teammates shouted in celebration.
“I’ve been thinking about this award, and thinking about how incredible our season has been, so to finally have that officially happen, it brought out a ton of emotion,” Rice says. “So I was just super excited, honestly, and it made me grateful and happy for all the people that I have around me. And it felt like it was a group award. My whole team, we’ve done so much together this year. So it was an incredible honor.”
The award was first given out for the 1985-86 season and previous winners include UConn freshman and former St. John’s College High School standout Azzi Fudd and WNBA stars Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and Candace Parker.
This season, Rice, the No. 2 ranked girls’ high school basketball prospect in the class of 2022, led Sidwell (28-0) to a historic season as its point guard. She averaged more than 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game for the Quakers, who won the program’s first ever D.C. State Athletic Association Class AA title this month.
“She’s extremely humble, a hard worker, has a team-first mindset, is aware, has balance; she understands time management and focus and resilience,” Dudley told City Paper in January. “I think there’s just so many qualities about her that she has off the court that makes her very special on the court. Who she is as a person is what makes her special.”
Rice still has more left in her high school career before heading off to the West Coast. She is playing at the 2022 McDonald’s All-American girls’ basketball game set to take place on March 29 in Chicago, and Sidwell will compete at the inaugural State Champions Invitational taking place April 7-9 in Tampa, Florida. The Gatorade National Player of the Year honor gives Rice more reason to improve her craft in a sport she has been playing since she was an elementary school student shooting hoops with her dad and older brother at their neighbor’s house.
“It’s amazing to kind of see everything that you set out for and that you worked for to kind of come to fruition,” she says. “I know this is … a celebration and an incredible award. But I think also winning Gatorade National Player of the Year motivates me to continue to work and continue to achieve the goals that I have set for myself going forward. So it’s just another motivating factor that will help me throughout these next four years in college and then beyond that, as well.”