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Sidwell’s Kiki Rice, JWS Player of the Year, primed for basketball royalty

(Christian Jenkins/Just Women’s Sports)

The next queen of women’s basketball has yet to be crowned.

Whoever inherits the throne will lay claim to unprecedented riches — and responsibility. Between name, image and likeness (NIL) deals infusing cash into the college game and a $75 million investment from backers into the WNBA, the sport is closer to reaching mainstream popularity than ever before.

“Women’s basketball, in a good way, is going to probably go through some growing pains,” legendary Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “We’re going to start getting attention that we’re not used to getting. You’re going to probably have more cameras in your face.”

The queen will need to be someone who plays at a high level, but who also stays cool under pressure. Someone who understands the history and the potential of the game. Someone who will not be made by the crown, but who will make the crown themselves.

Someone like Kiki Rice.

Rice, the incoming UCLA point guard, is our inaugural JWS high school basketball Player of the Year, and not just because of her superlative on court-abilities — she’s averaging more than 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game entering the State Champions Invitational national tournament next month. The Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.) senior, many believe, has the tools and the makeup to help shepherd the sport to the next level.

Central to her appeal is her deferential demeanor. Rice’s family moved from the Bay Area when she was young, and even today she’s more California chill than D.C. domineering.

“From day to day, what’s on my mind is not necessarily, oh, a ton of people are watching me, and I have high expectations,” Rice said. “It’s just about having fun and helping those around me have the same opportunities that I did.”

***

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(Christian Jenkins/Just Women's Sports)

It’s a little after 10 a.m. on March 12, and more than a foot of snow is decorating the Sidwell Friends campus. Rice is at the school for the JWS photoshoot, and though she’s the star of the show, she also assumes the role of photographer’s assistant, moving the light stand from station to station. Then she hurries back into position, waits for the flash, and smiles.

In between pictures, she hoists shots on the court where she’s become a local icon.

The basketball gym, which Rice will leave behind this year when she enrolls at UCLA, functions as something of a paean to her basketball power.

Pinned to the balcony overlooking the court is a white banner recognizing her gold medal with Team USA at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship. Another white banner, hanging against the baseline where Rice has swooshed so many jumpers, commemorates the Quakers’ 2022 D.C. State Athletic Association Championship. And in the locker room, printed on the whiteboard in red lettering, is an axiom that’s helped Rice guide Sidwell to heights few thought were possible: #SUCCESSNEVERRESTS.

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(Christian Jenkins/Just Women's Sports)

Before Rice, Sidwell was known more for the presence of Secret Service agents than Division I basketball scouts. Graduates include Barack Obama’s children, Sasha and Malia, Chelsea Clinton, Al Gore III and several of President Joe Biden’s grandchildren.

Rice’s family runs in similar circles; her aunt Susan was Obama’s national security adviser. So when it came to decide on her high school path, Rice felt most comfortable remaining at Sidwell, where she’d become a basketball sensation as a middle schooler, instead of running off to the more competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

She lifted the Quakers program up with her.

“She laid the foundation for the quality of the kids and people we want in our program,” said Sidwell Friends coach Tamika Dudley, who took over the program ahead of Rice’s sophomore season. “We coach her hard, and she’s OK with that. And I think that sets the example for others.”

It was that work ethic that drew Alex McLean to Rice. McLean, the director of player development for the Washington Wizards, has also worked with UConn stars Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd. Rice, he said, has the ability to reach those same heights.

Over the past year, McLean has worked with Rice to improve her jumper from a bio-mechanical standpoint. Using the Noah shooting system, a machine that tracks shots from anywhere on the court and provides verbal feedback for shot arc and depth, McLean helped Rice become a dead-eye shooter.

“She’s always been known for her ball-handling. She’s super fast, super strong. The knock on her was her shooting,” McLean said. “Now she’s knocking stuff down left and right.”

Sidwell opponents, both local and national, witnessed that transformation firsthand. With Rice leading the way, the Quakers enter the State Champions Invitational, beginning April 8 in Tampa, with a 28-0 record.

What was once referred to by locals as the “Obama school” is now the “Kiki Rice school.” But Rice is looking to expand her reach even farther.

“I think if she can convey to the world who she truly is, which I think she will,” Dudley said, “she’s going to be a complete rock star.”

***

Every few nights, when she’s laying in bed with the lights off, Rice flicks her phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode and takes a few moments to reflect.

“It’s just me … thinking back on what’s happened to me, just how fortunate I am to be in the situation I am,” Rice said.

And then she’ll fall asleep, but not for too long. Rice often rises at 5 a.m. for workouts, whether with McLean, Wes Dunning, her strength and conditioning coach who’s helped her become a more physical player (Rice can deadlift almost 300 pounds), or her father John, who played basketball at Yale.

Back in the gym on March 12, right after the JWS shoot, it’s John’s turn for some face-time with the royalty-in-waiting. Rice ties up her hair and trades her Quakers jersey for some workout clothes.

The previous week, Rice had been named Naismith National Player of the Year. The following week, Bird would personally honor her as the Gatorade National Player of the Year. The awards, though, come secondary to the work. Now, it’s time to get up some shots.

The cameras have been stowed away, but Rice’s day is just beginning. Her hair bounces atop her head as she shuffles across the court. Her curls are dyed blond, but from a distance they almost look gold, a custom crown for the next queen of women’s basketball.

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

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