On Thursday, UCLA commit Kiki Rice was officially named the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
WNBA legend Sue Bird surprised Rice with the news on Zoom. It was a memorable moment for Rice, who has won a plethora of awards over the past year.
We caught up with Kiki Rice to discuss winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award, her future at UCLA and much more.
The Spun: What was it like being surprised by Sue Bird with the Gatorade National Player of the Year award?
Kiki Rice: It was incredible. She’s one of my all-time favorite players, so to spend a few moments with her is something I never would’ve imagined would happen to me. Also, to be presented with the Gatorade National Player of the Year award is an incredible honor. It’s something that’s very special to me.
The Spun: So many great players before you have won that award. Do you almost feel any pressure/sense of responsibility being the latest winner?
KR: I look at the trophy and I see all the names on the list. I think there’s definitely responsibility that comes with being a part of that list. But it’s also about gratitude and being thankful to be mentioned with that group. I noticed that so many of these players have done so much to grow and expand the game - on and off the court.
The Spun: Which players do you like to watch?
KR: I love Sue Bird, I love Courtney Vandersloot and Skylar Diggins-Smith. I also like watching Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore. So many of these players are previous winners of the Gatorade National Player of the Year award.
The Spun: You committed to UCLA back In November. What about the program really appealed to you?
KR: The recruiting process was long and thorough, but it’s a huge decision. Where I’m going to spend my next four years is something I talked about with my family. The opportunity to bring a first national championship program is something that’s special to me. Hopefully, we can achieve that at UCLA. Also, the way the coaching staff develops its players is important to me. I’ll be away from family, but I have a ton of trust in the coaching staff.
The Spun: How do you manage expectations at UCLA?
KR: As a team, you set a high standard for yourself. You need to work hard every day. You don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself, but you also want to strive toward that goal of winning a national championship.
The Spun: I’m sure you’ve idolized former players in the past. Have you thought about how you’ll eventually be that role model for the younger generation?
KR: It started to this year. In my school community, we received a ton of support from the younger grades. To see the kids admire our team is something that I did when I was younger. To think that I’m someone people look up to is special. I’m excited to set a good example for everyone.
The Spun: What do you think UCLA fans should expect to see from you?
KR: I’d say someone who is going to compete, work hard, assert their will every game, and bring a new energy to the program.
Rice, a five-star recruit, is considered an athletic scorer capable of leading a top-tier program’s backcourt.
It’ll be fun to see what Rice accomplishes with the Bruins in 2022 and beyond.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.