Springfield (Springfield, Oregon) senior center Mercedes Russell was named the 2012-13 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year on Wednesday. A two-time Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year, the 6-foot-6 Russell averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 70.3 percent from the field this past season, leading the Millers (24-4) to the Class 5A state championship game for a third consecutive year. She anchored Springfield’s consecutive state-title runs in 2011 and 2012 and concluded her prep basketball career with 2,273 points, 1,642 rebounds and 562 blocked shots.
We sat down with Russell to better understand how she outshined more than 435,000 girls high school basketball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: Two years ago, Team USA U16 coach Jill Rankin Schneider said you had no clue how good you could be. After today, do you have more of a clue?
A: Winning Gatorade does make you think. When you see the names on the trophy of those who’ve come before you, it gives you a sense of your potential.
Q: Word is, you’re a big fan of Dwight Howard. Correct?
A: Oh, I am very fond of Dwight Howard. It could be a little bit of a stalker thing. I don’t know. I’ll keep you guessing.
Q: You’re enrolling at Tennessee for the summer session beginning in June. Can you believe you’re going to be attending college classes in three months?
A: No, it’s crazy. High school went by really fast. When I think about it, I think, ‘This is going to be a lot of work.’
Q: You’ve set USA Basketball single-game and tournament age-group records. Do performances like that give you confidence?
A: Definitely. You’re playing with and against great talent and you see that you can play with them.
Q: You shoot with your right hand, but write with your left. How’d that happen?
A: I’m not sure, but I blame it on my grandma. She’s left-handed.
Q: Is it true you like TV shows with surgery and ‘all that gross stuff’?
A: Yes. Love them! I watch any show that deals with the emergency room, even reality shows about hospitals.
Q: Any other unusual pastimes?
A: Well, yeah. I have this thing where if I’m going to use a spoon, I have to lick it first to see if it tastes like metal. If it does, I can’t use it. Some do, some don’t. My whole family makes fun of me for it. And yes, I lick them and just throw them back in the drawer.
Q: As part of ESPYs Week events in Hollywood, Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year candidates like yourself face off in bowling. Given that you bowled a lot in your youth, should you be considered the early favorite?
A: Probably not. Unless there are bumpers on the gutters, I’m not going to have a very good score.