WILMINGTON,NC (WWAY)–In its 36th year of honoring the nation’s most elite high school athletes, Gatorade today announced Saniya Rivers of Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington, N.C. is the 2020-21 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Rivers won the prestigious award for her accomplishments on and off the court, joining an impressive group of former Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year winners who have combined for nine WNBA MVP awards, 49 All-Star appearances, 14 WNBA championships, 14 WNBA first round draft picks and two Hall of Famers.
WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne virtually surprised Rivers with the news.
“It feels great, it’s actually crazy on the way here my dad was congratulating me on the Gatorade State Player of the Year and I was just like ‘man I’m just going to go for the national one,” says Rivers. “Then next thing you know 30 minutes later Elena Delle Donne is just congratulating me on being National Gatorade Player of the Year. I still don’t have a word for it, it’s just amazing. I loved it.”
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, distinguishes Rivers as the nation’s best high school girls basketball player. A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Rivers from nearly half a million high school girls basketball players nationwide.
“I know this is just the beginning for her because she has it all,” says NBA MVP Elena Delle Donne. “That’s why this award is so special to me, because it’s not just the basketball stuff. It’s everything else and it’s all encompassing. So, I’m super excited to see what she’s got next for us. I know it’s going to be amazing things.”
Competition for the national award was fierce. Rivers topped the list of state winners in girls basketball who collectively boast an incredible list of accomplishments, including 11 repeat Gatorade State Players of the Year, 35 with signed Letters of Intent at Division I colleges and universities, and 17 with GPAs of 4.0 or higher.
“Saniya Rivers is one of the best athletes to come out of high school in years,” says Kevin Lynch, senior national talent evaluator for BlueStar Basketball. “Her speed, quickness, size and leaping ability makes her special from a matchup perspective. Her level of intensity is second to none. Smart coaches recognize that a player’s position is who they can guard. Saniya is that rare player who can not only play every position, but guard every position. Her ceiling is, well, she has none.”
The 6-foot-1 senior guard led the Screaming Eagles to a 15-2 record and the Class 4A semifinals this past season. The state’s two-time returning Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Rivers averaged 36.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.3 steals and 5.1 assists per game. The North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Player of the year, she is a three-time All-State honoree and a McDonald’s All-American. Rivers was also selected to the WBCA High School Coaches’ All-America team and is ranked as the nation’s No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2021 by Prospects Nation.
Also a high-jumper for the track team, Rivers is a member of the Ashley Leadership Council and a bible study group. She has volunteered locally as an instructor and mentor for young players at the MLK Center and the Brigade Boys and Girls Club. During the pandemic, she regularly performed shopping duties for an elderly, immunocompromised neighbor.
Rivers has maintained a 3.38 GPA in the classroom. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball on scholarship at the University of South Carolina this fall.
“Saniya Rivers is an outstanding high school basketball player, but she also has high standards for academic achievement and gives back to her community,” said Gatorade Senior Vice President and General Manager Brett O’Brien. “This award is about more than just sport and we look forward to seeing Saniya’s continued achievements on and off the court.”
Each year a selection committee evaluates the nation’s top talent in the District of Columbia and all 50 states, choosing national winners in 12 different sports: football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls track and field.
Gatorade is dedicated to recognizing, supporting and keeping athletes in the game because of the lifelong skills sports instill on and off the field. Since the program’s inception in 1985, Gatorade Player of the Year award recipients have won hundreds of professional and college championships, and many have also turned into pillars in their communities, becoming coaches, business owners and educators. Previous winners include a distinguished list of athletes, such as Peyton Manning, Abby Wambach, Jayson Tatum, Derek Jeter, Elena Delle Donne and many other sports icons.