LOS ANGELES – From multiple gold medals with USA Basketball to clocking times on the track faster than any female high school sprinter in the country, Jayson Tatum and Sydney McLaughlin are certainly not new to accolades at the highest level.
Still, when Tatum and McLaughlin were named Gatorade Male and Female Athletes of the Year Tuesday night at the L.A. Hotel both had to contend that their newest hardware “easily” topped the list.
“It’s a huge honor. I didn’t think I would make it here”, said McLaughlin. “Two weeks into the track season I found out I had mono; that wasn’t a great start to my season. Then my mom had a heart attack. They say every Olympian has two or three major struggles and I was having all of these struggles. Then I had a major panic attack on Sunday and I called my dad and my coach said just get on the line. I did that and I’m an Olympian. I want to thank Gatorade and my family and my coaches and everyone who got me here.”
Tatum and McLaughlin each beat out Gatorade National Players of the Year in girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and boys track & field.
Sports icons like Peyton Manning, Candace Parker, Derek Jeter and Emmitt Smith have all won the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award in the past.
“Wow! What can I say… My parents and my grandmother always reminded me growing up to keep God first”, said Tatum. I want to thank my parents, I owe them the world. I want to thank Gatorade for such a great honor and I want to thank my high school teammates, my teammates at Duke and Coach K!”
Tatum, a forward who recently began summer school at Duke, scored 40 or more points in six games last season including the 40 he managed to lead Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.) to the state title.
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Tatum, who finished high school ranked No. 3 overall in the ESPN 100, averaged 29.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. He won gold medals with USA Basketball’s U19, U17 and U16 teams and is one of the keys to Duke’s top-ranked recruiting class, which prompted the Blue Devils to check in at No. 1 in USA Today’s early preseason poll for the 2016-17 season.
On Sunday, McLaughlin, a rising senior at Union Catholic (Scotch Plains, N.J.), became the first 16-year-old since Rhonda Brady (1976) to qualify for the Olympics when she took third in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic trials in Oregon.
Her time of 54.15 seconds set a world junior record beating her old time of 54.46 at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships, which broke a 32-year-old national prep record set by former U.S. Olympian Leslie Maxie in 1984.
McLaughlin also clocked 51.87 seconds in the 400-meter dash at the state Meet of Champions, breaking her own state record and ranking No. 1 among U.S. prep competitors in 2016 at the time of her selection.
Gatorade’s Athlete of the Year program began in 2003 and winners are chosen annually from the program’s 12 National Player of the Year honorees by a select national electorate of prep sports experts. The National Player of the Year award selection process is administered by USA TODAY High School Sports in collaboration with Gatorade. The award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field of play.