St. John’s High School’s 5'11" sophomore guard Azzi Fudd is a sensation–she can play the perimeter, slash at the rim or sink a mid-range shot with ease, not to mention her abilities on the other side of the ball. Her superhuman abilities have solidified Fudd as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2021 and through her hard work, the 16-year-old star has already begun to break barriers in just two years of high school hoops.
She was one of the first females invited to Steph Curry’s SC30 Select Camp last August, she’s already a two-time D.C. Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year and now she’s the first sophomore to ever win the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year as the 2018-19 honoree.
"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 Fudd as the nation’s best high school girls basketball player," according to a release from Gatorade. "A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Fudd from nearly 415,000 high school basketball players nationwide."
Former WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, a three-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Delaware during her own high school tenure, surprised Fudd with the award on Tuesday afternoon.
We spoke with Fudd–who averaged an astounding 26.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.9 games as a sophomore while leading her Cadets to a 35–1 record and both the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship and the District of Columbia State Athletic Association tournament title this past season while maintaining an active presence in her community and a 3.68 GPA–and Delle Donne after the young star was honored by Gatorade with the award.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Caron: What does receiving this award mean to you?
Azzi Fudd: It’s incredible. It’s really just an honor, I can’t describe it any other way.
EC: Can you take me through what today was like for you–from the experience to the emotions?
AF: I had three tests today and chemistry was my last which is not my best class at all so I finally finished that and was just excited that the day was almost over. Mrs. Bell, one of the administrators here, came to get me from class in a rush. She kept saying we had to hurry to go take pictures with my teammates before the day was over.
So I’m rushing and she’s telling me to tuck my shirt in and I’m like, ‘Where are we going?’ and I turn the corner and all my teammates, my coaches, my family were there and they all yelled, ‘Surprise!’ Elena Delle Donne was standing there with the trophy and I was so shocked. The first thing that went through my head was just ‘What is going on?’
EC: What was your reaction when you saw Elena Delle Donne there?
AF: I couldn’t stop smiling. I could feel my face getting all red but I couldn’t stop.
EC: When you consider that you’re joining the likes of some of the best basketball players in the country, Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Skylar Diggins, Breanna Stewart and more as a Gatorade’s National Girls Basketball Player of the Year, what significance does that hold?
AF: I honestly didn’t even think about that until I was looking at the trophy today and I was looking down at the list of all the names. All I could think was ‘Wow, this is crazy.’
EC: You are the first sophomore to win the award in basketball, what do you credit with getting you to this point where you’ve been able to accomplish so much so fast?
AF: My parents. My family. My teammates–and my coaches too. Honestly I wouldn’t be where I am without them. My parents have always been by my side, my teammates are some of my best friends too so they’ve always pushed me on the court to get better every day but also off the court to be a good friend.
EC: From winning consecutive D.C. player of the year awards to averaging over 26 points per game last season to being honored with Gatorade’s National Girls Basketball Player of the Year recognition, what has been the most memorable part of this journey for you?
AF: Honestly it’s never been about the points or the awards to me. This season was about the three seniors, two of them specifically I’ve played with since I started playing basketball, so this whole year was really about playing hard for my last time playing with them. All of the accomplishments and the awards I’ve gotten this year I never really see as just mine. I can’t do it and I can’t be who I am without my teammates without everyone around me.
EC: The things that you have accomplished though–winning back-to-back state honors and now national player of the year–are all accomplishments people strive for four years to attain. Since you’ve been able to do this so early on in your high school career, what goals will you set next for yourself? What do you still hope to accomplish in your remaining two years at St. John's?
AF: That’s a good question. I always sit down with my parents before the high school season starts and we make a list of goals for basketball and school related goals, so I guess I’m going to have to reassess my goals.
EC: Speaking of your parents–both of your parents are accomplished players themselves and are now coaches who’ve helped mold you, both on the court and off. What was their reaction to you being named as this year’s National Girls Player of the Year?
AF: My mom was crying–slow tears, not bawling crying–but she was tearing up. I’ve only really see them get that way a few times. They’re pretty tough so even though I know they’re proud of me, they’re not the type of give me a whole bunch of compliments. So seeing them today and seeing how proud they are was heartwarming. It was really nice.
EC: Tell me a little about what it’s been like to have them by your side throughout your development as a player and as a person, especially as you start looking forward to the future and maybe colleges, etc.?
AF: I’ve been really lucky to have two parents invested in my basketball career, and me, which is something I love. A lot of people don’t have that. I know that anything, basketball or not basketball; they’ll have my back and be there whenever I need them.
EC: You broke barriers as one of the first two girls invited to Steph Curry’s SC30 Select Camp last August. Clips of you outshooting the top boys in the nation to win the three-point contest went viral, your Instagram following skyrocketed. Now you’re soaring to new heights again by becoming the first sophomore to win this award. What do you say to the other young female basketball players hoping to shatter ceilings or accomplish big dreams?
AF: Keep working hard and make sure you love it. Do something and make sure you love it because you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time doing something you don’t really love. Also just be who you are and be yourself. Be yourself and do what you love, that’s really it.
EC: When you first started playing basketball, did you ever foresee this for yourself?
AF: Not at all.
EC: You’ve surprised awards winners for the last several years–with Katie Lou Samuelson first in 2015, Christyn Williams last year and now Azzi this year, what does being part of this ceremony mean to you, especially as someone who herself was honored by Gatorade as Delaware’s three-time player of the year during your high school career?
Elena Delle Donne: I love being a part of this moment, I did Katie Lou first and I’ve tried to be part of it every year since because it’s so cool to be able to celebrate all the hard work they’ve put into this and see the excitement on their face, their family’s faces. It’s really awesome to just be in the room.
EC: As someone who’s been honored with this award along with others–you were the 2015 WNBA MVP, a five-time All-Star, and more–what does it mean as a player to be recognized in this way?
EDD: It’s huge. Especially when you see where all the players who have won this award have ended up and then to realize that Azzi is winning this as a sophomore, which has never been done before. It’s super special and just shows how great she is already and where she’s going to go. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch her career unfold because she’s so special.
EC: Now when you look at those people that Azzi will now be listed alongside as a recipient of the award, Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Maya Moore–who she’s been compared to in the past–Skylar Diggins, Breanna Stewart, among so many other talented women, what binds that group together?
EDD: I think it’s just an inner drive that not many people have. They’re willing to make that sacrifice and give up things–I’m sure there have been times where [Azzi] has wanted to stay out late with friends or go to a dance and hasn’t been able to do that because she either has to get up early for workouts or get on the road for an AAU game. They just all put in that extra effort and have that determination to continue to improve and get better.
EC: What do you think it is about Azzi—whether her personality or her style of play—that makes her such a historic player?
EDD: She does everything. I feel like our game has lost the midrange a little bit and she has that, which is great to see. And she does it all on both ends of the floor. Not only on the basketball side of things but she’s also just a great student athlete. I believe she has a 3.6 GPA and she’s also doing things in the community. This award is way more than just on court stuff and it’s really cool that Gatorade is celebrating her as an entire athlete.
EC: Can you talk more about the importance of being an athlete who also does things off the court? You’ve spoken before about how important that is to you personally.
EDD: It’s so important to give back to the community. The community is what raises you and gets you here so it’s important to give back and hopefully be able to inspire other young ones coming up.
EC: What was her reaction today seeing you at St. John’s?
EDD: I think at first it might’ve been a little bit of confusion but within a few seconds she got what was going on and it was just pure joy from there. Definitely excitement and a little bit of shock but it was really cool to see all those emotions on her face.
EC: What did you say to her, any advice or words of wisdom?
EDD: Just congratulations and really try to just take moments like these in because the journey goes really fast. You have to try and enjoy all these little moments along the way.
EC: What would you say to any young player hoping to accomplish what Azzi has at such a young age, or at any age at all for that matter?
EDD: Obviously it takes a ton of hard work and a lot of focus but it also takes really hard work in the classroom and in the community. Never put all your eggs in one basket, you want to be a well-rounded person and player. That’s what I see with Azzi in what a great person she is and it’s really special. That’s what it takes.
EC: When you look at what barriers she’s already broken as such a young person, what does that say to you about the future of basketball?
EDD: The future is very bright. The game will continue to grow and improve and the players will just continue to get better and better. It’s so exciting for me as someone who’s in the league now to know that it’ll be in great hands when these young ones keep coming up.