Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.) senior Katie Lou Samuelson’s name sounds better suited for a Nashville record label than basketball stardom, but it was the sweet music of her game that got the utmost validation earlier today. Samuelson was named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year and none other than 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne showed up in the Monarchs locker room to surprise her with the news.
“I’m in absolute awe and shock,” said Samuelson, 17, a UConn commit. “I am so humbled and grateful to receive this honor. So many people who have won this thing are athletes who I’ve grown up admiring. This is hard to believe.”
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 March 21. 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 USA TODAY’s American Family Insurance ALL-USA First Team.
“This is a really special moment for her,” said Delle Donne, 25, who captured Gatorade Delaware Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors three times in high school. “I was actually nervous beforehand. I didn’t want to screw up the surprise. Her skills speak for themselves, but she seems like a tremendous kid too. I hope she soaks this in because this is rare.”
Samuelson has maintained a weighted GPA of 4.26 in the classroom. A volunteer coach and counselor for the Kiernan/Mater Dei Camp of Champions, she has donated her time as an assistant and entertainer at the Boo Bash Dance and Dinner for special needs children. She has also participated in multiple community service initiatives, including the Santa Ana YMCA’s Tie Blanket Project, the Buddy Walk to benefit the National Down Syndrome Society and the Mater Dei Family Mass & Pancake Breakfast.
“She’s the best player in the country,” said Kevin Lynch, national talent evaluator for Blue Star Basketball. “She’s the best big shooter I’ve seen since [2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year] Elena Delle Donne. She reads defenses well, knows how to get open and she’s really developed an edge to her game too. She’ll battle you, and she’s a hell of a teammate.”
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.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. Samuelson is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Samuelson becomes the third Californian to win Gatorade national honors in girls basketball and the second from Mater Dei to do so, joining UConn All-American senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis. Mater Dei has produced a record four national Gatorade winners. In all, 63 California natives have won Gatorade national honors throughout the award’s 30-year history, the most of any state. Samuelson joins a distinguished list of national-winner alumni from the Golden State, including NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood), who won in 2008, Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles Baptist, North Hills), the 2003 winner in track, and three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose), who won in 1996.
Texas, with 29 national winners, has produced the next-most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Florida (20), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13).