Ask Jonathan Scribner to name one moment from Azzi Fudd’s freshman year that stands out, and he is momentarily stumped.
“Honestly, there were so many,” said Scribner, the girls basketball coach at Washington D.C.’s St. John’s, the No. 3 team in the final USA TODAY Super 25 Expert Rankings. “There was the game where we were struggling against Georgetown Visitation and she hit 10 threes. There was the first game against (Paul VI in Fairfax, Va.) where she scored 28 points and took over late to win, including the winning bucket.
“It’s remarkable how consistent and efficient she is every night, every game, on both ends of the court. You’ll look at the score sheet and say, ‘Wait, she had 28? It felt like she had 12.’”
It was that apparent ease with which the game came to Fudd at a young age that prompted Maryland coach Brenda Frese to offer her a scholarship – when Fudd was in the sixth grade.
“I didn’t really know what it was at that time,” Fudd told USA TODAY High School Sports. “I was kind of confused. Afterward, I was in complete shock, like I couldn’t believe it.”
It has all become more believable for the player who, at 15, may already be the best player in the country.
In her first year of varsity basketball, Fudd earned D.C. Girls Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year honors and was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Third Team. The 5-foot-11 freshman guard averaged 24 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game in leading the Lady Cadets to a 32-2 record and a District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship. She remarkably shot 50 percent both from the field and behind the 3-point arc, and 90 percent from the free-throw line in helping the St. John’s win its fourth DCSAA title in five years.
The first freshman in history to win MVP honors in the highly competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Fudd was also named DCSAA Tournament MVP after scoring 22 points with eight rebounds in the championship game.
So how was she so dominant so soon? Playing international competition in the summer heading into her freshman year didn’t hurt. That’s the kind of thing that might draw legendary UConn coach Geno Auriemma to a gym before a player’s first high school game, as was the case last fall.
“I think the committee was really impressed, as was I, to see a girl who just finished eighth grade competing against girls three years older,” said Carla Berube, a former UConn player and coach of last year’s U16 USA team that competed in the FIBA World Cup in Buenos Aires. Fudd, 14 at the time, was the lone member of the Class of 2021 to make the team. “It speaks volumes to her skill set and her work ethic. She’s a competitor, and you can tell she competes at everything she does. To see her make the team and then to coach her was a joy.”
In helping the U16 team win a gold medal, Fudd was one of the first guards off the bench, averaging 8.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Again, she was 14.
“She’s a sponge, too,” added Berube, who won a national championship as a player in 1995 and has been the coach at Div. III Tufts University (Mass.) since 2002. “There’s so much for her to learn, and there’s a lot of growth that can happen still. But she’s amazing at her age. She looks like the game comes easy to her. When you have the parents and role models that she does, it’s no surprise.”
It is her parents’ pronounced basketball interests and involvement that caused Azzi to get her name. Fudd’s mom, Katie, idolized basketball great Jennifer Azzi, the former Stanford standout who won an Olympic gold medal in 1996 before playing in the WNBA.
Those familiar with women’s basketball may remember Katie Fudd as Katie Smrcka-Duffy. A former ACC Rookie of the Year at North Carolina State, she transferred to Georgetown after her freshman season and went on to be drafted by the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs. Previously a McDonald’s All-American while starring at James Madison High (Vienna, Va.), she is in the Virginia High School Hall of Fame.
Katie’s husband, Tim, was a hoops standout at American University, averaging 16.1 points as a senior in 1996. The two now help run elite camps while sharing coaching duties with the Fairfax Stars, their daughter’s AAU team that won Nike Nationals last July in Chicago. Previously the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Washington’s Archbishop Carroll High School, Tim Fudd is now an assistant on Scribner’s St. John’s staff.
“I’m hard on her and she knows it,” Tim Fudd told USA TODAY High School Sports. “We had these conversations when Azzi was younger, and I’d say ‘I could be getting paid to do this for other people.’ She appreciates it, though. I’m here to help her, not to harm her. She appreciates it, and looks forward to it. … With all the kids I coach, I’m going to be very honest in my assessment, and hopefully help them achieve the things they want to achieve.”
As for Fudd’s assessment of her coaching parents?
“My dad can be loud and crazy, but also at the same time, a really good coach,” said Azzi, who has one older brother and two younger brothers. “Both my parents, I think it’s part of what makes them such good coaches, that they care for us. Not just me, but my whole team. They’ll talk to us about anything, even if it’s not basketball related. They make us want to work harder.”
Last summer in Colorado Springs, USA Basketball began with 133 players before whittling the roster to the final 12 that included Fudd. She has a strong chance to be back in international competition in July at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Minsk, Belarus. On May 24, Fudd will be at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, taking part in trials to select the 12-member team coached by Berube.
Last year’s tournament in Buenos Aires was a major first for Fudd, but surely not a last for the phenom who has become more eager to return to international competition.
“It was a crazy experience I’ll never forget,” Fudd said. “I had so much fun on that trip, both on and off the court.”
Fudd has put her considerable athleticism on display outdoors as well. She is currently starring for the St. John’s track team, where she is a member of the 4×400 relay team that recently went to the prestigious Penn Relays and qualified for nationals.
She could also stake a claim as one of the nation’s best flag football players, having been a part of the Arlington (Va.) Fusion for the last several years. The all-girls flag football team won a 2017 NFL Flag girls’ national championship and was runner-up this year.
“That was a lot of fun, and I’m actually kind of sad it’s over,” said Azzi, who played safety and wide receiver. “When I was younger, I didn’t want to play. It was totally different than basketball and a completely new experience. But some of the stuff transferred to basketball. You have to make moves to get around defenders, the quick burst. When we first started, we knew we had a good team, but we didn’t know we’d be that good.”
In an era where one-sport athletes are the norm, Fudd’s high school coach sees it as a refreshing development that the country’s top hoops phenom pursues other athletic endeavors.
And it doesn’t hurt when the other sports assist her development in her primary sport.
“I think it’s incredible what Azzi is doing,” Scribner said. “I think sports specialization has hurt the game in a lot of ways, and I think there is so much to be learned from other sports. There were three or four times in the year where she caught an errant pass that was ahead of her or behind her, and I turned to the staff, her father included, and was like ‘Wow,’ and the following comment was, ‘That’s flag football coming out.’ It warms my heart that she’s playing other sports, having fun.”
Whatever Fudd is doing, even if it’s playing video or board games with her brothers, rest assured she is doing it at a high level.
“I made a list of goals at the beginning of the school year, the end of summer,” Fudd said. “I think I’ve completed most of them.”
Time for another list of goals. Lofty ones, no doubt.