Elena Delle Donne surprises Saniya Rivers with Gatorade National Player of the Year Award

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Delle Donne surprises high schooler with National Player of the Year Award originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

What started as a team banquet for Eugene Ashley High School and highly regarded 2021 South Carolina commit Saniya Rivers, ended with Elena Delle Donne crashing the party – via Zoom of course – and announcing one of the most prestigious awards in high school athletics.

Rivers was and named the 2021 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. This past season the No. 3 recruit, according to ESPN, averaged 36.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.3 steals and 5.1 assists per game.

Delle Donne and Gatorade held the surprise virtually with the team gathered in Wilmington, NC. The current Washington Mystic is recovering from a back procedure in the offseason and gearing up to return this WNBA season. For the two-time WNBA MVP, being able to surprise Rivers is one of her favorite things to do as a professional athlete. Each celebration that Delle Donne becomes the presenter, she wants to be unique and special.

“To be able to share in this moment where I get to surprise an athlete with this honor is something I never take for granted,” Delle Donne told media in a press conference on Wednesday. “I actually do get nervous like every single time I do it because I want it to be a really special moment. This one being on Zoom, I really wanted it to be a big moment for her and I mean she was emotional she had some tears, it was incredible, so I can't wait to watch her as her future unfolds.”

The moment was “surreal” for Rivers who has won the North Carolina Player of the Year Award for three years straight. There was a feeling from the 6-foot-1 guard that something was off heading into the day, but she did not expect Delle Donne to be making an appearance.

“Just hearing that itself was just crazy that she even knew me and knew about my game,” Rivers told NBC Sports Washington.

“It made me feel really special, just me being a high school senior, going to be a freshman in college, just the fact that she's already pro and knows my name just means a lot,” Rivers continued. “When she talked about me and my game, it just made me feel great, and I'm looking forward to even playing with her or against her in the next four or five years.”

Past winners of this award have gone on to win nine WNBA MVP awards, made 49 All-Star appearances, with 14 WNBA championships and 14 WNBA first-round draft picks. Most notably are Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Maya Moore and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Some evaluators and Delle Donne say that Rivers’ game is similar to that of Moore who won the league MVP in 2014.

Outside of basketball, Rivers also competes in the high jump for her high school track team. She is looking to continue playing multiple sports at South Carolina and has gotten the blessing from head coach Dawn Staley to pursue it at the collegiate level.

But her eyes remain on her basketball game. Next year, she wants to compete for the Freshman Player of the Year. Over her career, she hopes to lead the Gamecocks back to a national championship and then eventually turn pro.

“I knew this was my goal coming into my senior year because I got it for my state the past two years and then got it again this year and I was just like 'oh man like this is mine this is what I've been working towards, all the sweat, all the tears, everything,'” Rivers said.

“I want to play professional because that really just shows that you know that I've made it."