Football player Arik Gilbert and basketball player Paige Bueckers have been named national high school athletes of the year.
Gilbert of Marietta, Georgia, is the first tight end to win. Bueckers of Minnetonka, Minnesota, is the first female basketball player to win since 2014.
The coronavirus kept them from attending the annual dinner in Los Angeles. Instead, sponsor Gatorade arranged with their families to surprise Gilbert and Bueckers with videos in which pro athletes told them they’d won. They received their trophies at the same time.
Gilbert adds his name to a list of past boys’ winners that includes LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Matt Barkley and Garrett Gilbert.
“It means so much to me just knowing the names that are on that list and knowing I’m up there with all of those greats,” he said by phone. “It’s really like amazing to me. It makes me want to work to be on that level.”
Gilbert led Marietta High to a 14-2 record and a victory in the Georgia Class 7A state championship game, the school’s first title in 52 years. He’s ranked as the nation’s No. 1 player at his position in this year’s class by ESPN and Rivals. He had a 3.14 GPA and founded a campaign that urges students to have device-free conversations and supports diversity and inclusion.
Gilbert verbally committed to play at LSU this fall, and he hopes there will be football despite the pandemic.
“I’m worried because I want to have a season,” he said. “If they move to the spring, it will mess up a lot of stuff. I definitely want to win the national championship with my team.”
Gilbert’s future plans include making it to the NFL and then using a finance degree to help athletes manage their money.
Bueckers led Hopkins High to a 30-0 record. The team reached the state Class 4A title game only to have it canceled by the virus. She averaged 21 points, 9.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds.
“I wanted to finish off strong,” she said. “I really loved the team and wanted to play every second I could with them. It kind of feels unfinished.”
Bueckers adds the Gatorade honor to an already jammed trophy case. She was this year’s Miss Minnesota Basketball and the Naismith girls high school player of the year. She started on USA Basketball’s U19 World Cup team that won gold. Off the court, she had a 3.80 GPA and organized her own series of free youth basketball clinics in Minnesota and Montana that raised money for charity via donations and sponsors.
Rated as the nation’s top recruit by ESPN, Bueckers is headed to UConn this fall. Every previous Gatorade honoree who played basketball — Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chiney Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart and Brianna Turner — eventually made it to the pro ranks.
“Get my degree and that’s the job I want,” Bueckers said of the WNBA. “If I keep following their footsteps, I’m in the path of greatness.”
Bueckers is going to UConn this weekend, wondering how the virus will impact classes and sports this fall.
“I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst knowing we might not have a season,” she said.
After studying communications in college, Bueckers’ long-term goal is to expand women’s basketball.
“There’s not a lot of love and respect for the game,” she said.
Besides missing out on the dinner attended by several top pro athletes, Gilbert and Bueckers weren’t able to walk the red carpet and attend The ESPYS. However, they’ll still appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The other boys’ finalists were: Emoni Bates, basketball, Ypsilanti, Michigan; Jared Kelley, baseball, Refugio, Texas; Jony Munoz, soccer, Olathe, Kansas; and Nico Young, cross country and track, Newbury Park, California.
The other girls’ finalists were: Jayda Coleman, softball, The Colony, Texas; Taylor Ewert, track and field, Beavercreek, Ohio; Emily Mason, soccer, Flemington, New Jersey; Jess Mruzik, volleyball, Farmington Hills, Michigan; and 2018 winner Katelyn Tuohy, cross country, Thiells, New York.
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