Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.) senior Katie Lou Samuelson was named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year on Thursday. The 6-foot-3 guard has led the Monarchs to a 30-2 record and a berth in the semifinals of the Open Division state tournament, scheduled for Saturday.
The state’s returning Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Samuelson is averaging 30.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. The leading scorer for the USA Basketball Women’s U17 National Team that won the world championship in 2014, she was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA First Team by USA TODAY High School Sports.
Through 32 games, Samuelson shot 51 percent from the field, 42 percent from beyond the arc and 84 percent from the line, recording 10 double-doubles while averaging 1.9 assists per game. In the state quarterfinals on Tuesday, she sank five 3-pointers and scored 30 points—the 18th time she’s scored 30-plus as a senior. Selected to play in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, Samuelson was also named National Player of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association as well as Naismith Trophy Girls Player of the Year.
We sat down with Samuelson, a UConn commit, to better understand how she outshined 433,000 high school basketball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: You list Larry Bird as your favorite player and yet you were born five years after he retired. How is that possible?
A: My dad showed me a lot of his game tape growing up. I watched the Bird vs. Magic documentary. I love the way he played the game.
Q: With Team USA, you’ve traveled internationally multiple times, but were most struck by visiting Indonesia. What stands out for you about that trip?
A: It’s still the farthest away I’ve traveled from home and it was such a different atmosphere. Indonesia is not at all like your normal life back home. You get to see how other people live.
Q: You’ve been praised both locally and nationally for a special ability to adapt and learn on the fly. Where does that come from?
A: I’ve always been pretty good at picking things up quickly. I’ve sort of had that as a natural ability and I certainly didn’t develop it intentionally. I’ve just always been able to read cuts and screens and pick stuff like that up.
Q: You’ve already been mentioned in the same sentence as pro stars like Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne, who handed you the trophy Thursday (and all three of whom won Gatorade State POY honors multiple times). How does that not go to your head?
A: I know that because I’m going to UConn, I’m going somewhere with many talented players. Nothing is going to be given to me and I’ve got a lot to improve on, so I don’t know how I could be overconfident.
Q: You’re a big fan of racquetball. Does that help your lateral movement and footwork in basketball?
A: I don’t think so. I just started playing it recently for fun. It gets pretty intense against my sister, but it’s probably vice versa: Basketball helps the racquetball.
Q: Everybody talks about different aspects of your versatile game, but you’ve shattered your own school record for free throws in a season with 165 entering the state final four. How critical to your success is this ability to make opponents pay for making contact?
A: Well, first of all, I didn’t know that about the free throws, so that’s cool. My sisters and I took a lot of free throws growing up. It was an area of emphasis. It’s an easy two points and nobody’s guarding you, so you’d better make it.
Q: Following up on that, how much trash talk do you have do endure considering you’re arguably only the third-best free throw shooter in your family (sisters Bonnie and Karlie, a senior and sophomore, respectively, play for the third-seeded Stanford Cardinal women and each won the national Elks Hoop Shoot free throw competition twice growing up)?
A: My sisters still hold that over me. All the time. Especially, Karlie. She’s always like, ‘No matter how good you get, you never won a national championship.’ And there’s really nothing I can say. I’m thinking, ‘Nobody ever went to the Hall of Fame for their free-throw shooting ability,’ but I don’t say it. [Editor’s Note: Samuelson once advanced to the Elks Hoop Shoot state final in her age group despite a broken finger, which forced her to take all her shots left-handed].
Q: As it is for every elite prep player, the next level is going to be so physical compared to what you’ve experienced so far. Do you think you can adapt your game at both ends of the floor to adjust to the jump in bodying and physicality you’ll encounter?
A: Especially this year, I’ve worked on my strength and balance. Next year will be the most physical I’ve experienced, and I have to keep working.
A: While the wow-she-didn’t-go-to-Stanford conversation has been exhausted, it seems appropriate to ask about UConn. Playing in Storrs can be a — let’s just say unique — experience. There may be no better example than the divergent paths of Moore and Delle Donne as Huskies. Are you prepared for whatever comes when you touch down at Bradley airport this summer?
A: Absolutely. I’m really excited about it. That was why I picked UConn. I knew how tough it was going to be and I want to win, so yes, I’m ready.