Olympic gold medalist Maya Moore was named Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year as a high school senior in 2007. During the next four years, she won the Honda Sports Award as the best player in women’s college basketball, became the No. 1 draft pick in the WNBA Draft, and won WNBA and NCAA championships.
Springfield (Springfield, Oregon) senior center Mercedes Russell has taken the first step toward following in Moore’s footsteps. Russell was named Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year Wednesday morning when Moore surprised her in the school gym with the news.
“I was so shocked and excited when Maya Moore walked up behind me,” Russell said. “I had no idea this was going to happen. It was definitely a thrilling moment.”
A two-time Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year, Russell averaged 25.1 points on 70.3 percent shooting, 12.3 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game this winter to lead the Millers (24-4) to the Class 5A state title game. Russell, 6-foot-6, has committed to Tennessee.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. She is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award.
Russell, a 2013 McDonald’s and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American, was also a finalist for the Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year Award.
“Russell is a true post,” said Bret McCormick, publisher of the All-Star Girls Report. “She backs people down, she can score with either hand, has great feet, can pass out of double-teams and understands the game. She can get up and down the court, too, and she’s a shot-blocking presence. She’s got the package and she should make an impact right away at Tennessee.”
Russell led Springfield to consecutive state titles in 2011 and 2012 before losing in this year’s championship. She concluded her high school basketball career with 2,273 points, 1,642 rebounds, 562 blocked shots and one amazing surprise.
“I almost got right behind her before she turned around, so she was really surprised,” said Moore, 23, a four-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion at UConn. “It was a fun moment. And it’s particularly fun for me because it brings back memories of when I won.”
Russell, 17, has maintained a 3.15 GPA. She has volunteered on behalf of Oregon Amateur Basketball, the Special Olympics, a community beautification project and an elementary literacy-outreach program. She has also donated her time coaching youth basketball and serving the needy during the holidays.
Russell joins NBA All-Star forward Kevin Love (2006-07) in basketball as well as Sam Crouser (2009-10) and the late Art Skipper, Jr. (1987-88) in boys track as the fourth national winner from Oregon in the Gatorade Player of the Year program’s 27-year history.
California has produced more national Gatorade winners than any other state with 59. Texas (27), Florida (19) and Illinois (15) are next.