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Sidwell Friends’ Kiki Rice is named Gatorade national player of the year

Sidwell Friends guard Kiki Rice capped a memorable senior year with some hardware. (Gatorade)
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When the Sidwell Friends girls’ basketball players entered a conference room at their Northwest Washington school in their warmup suits Thursday, guard Kiki Rice was confused. Coach Tamika Dudley told the players there would be a photo shoot; there was no backdrop, but photographers lined the wall and a projector screen was pulled down.

Dudley told the team a special guest was joining via Zoom as Seattle Storm star Sue Bird appeared on the screen. Bird congratulated Sidwell on its season before reaching the point of her appearance.

“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 Gatorade national player of the year.”

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Rice beamed as her teammates mobbed her and her parents, Andrea and John, exited a closet holding a trophy. The senior is the second D.C.-area player in the past four years to earn one of the country’s most prestigious high school sports honors.

“I don’t cry a ton, but I guess I was as close to that as I could get,” Rice, who led the Quakers to the top national ranking, said during a virtual news conference from Dudley’s office. “I was shocked. I thought it was just going to be some photos and a normal day. But, I mean, I’ve been thinking about this award and thinking about how incredible our season has been. . . . So to finally have that officially happen brought out a lot of emotion.”

The UCLA signee averaged 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals as Sidwell (28-0) beat all comers, including national and local powerhouses. The Quakers cruised to their first Independent School League tournament title in more than 15 years and their first D.C. State Athletic Association crown. Rice, a 6-foot guard, was named Sidwell’s first McDonald’s all-American in January and the Naismith high school player of the year this month.

Rice began thinking about winning the Gatorade honor as a freshman in 2019, when St. John’s guard Azzi Fudd secured the national award. Past winners have combined for nine WNBA MVP awards, 53 all-star appearances, 15 WNBA championships and 15 WNBA first-round draft picks.

Until Thursday’s announcement, it was a normal day for Rice. She trained at 6 a.m., attended classes, napped at her Bethesda home during an afternoon break and returned to school at 2 p.m. A few minutes later, she was holding another trophy in a season full of hardware.

“It’s obviously something I set out to achieve, and it was one of the goals in the back of my head,” Rice said. “The fact that we’re the number-one-rated team in the country and we finished undefeated and I felt like I had a great year, I felt like I had a pretty good shot at it. But obviously you never know until it actually happens.”

Rice and the Quakers have a chance at one more accolade. Next month in Tampa, they will compete in the inaugural State Champions Invitational, which will be televised on ESPN’s networks.