The three-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year has a new accolade to add to her résumé: 2020-21 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Saniya Rivers, the No. 3-ranked overall prospect in the Class of 2021, was surprised by Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne -- whom she called "the GOAT herself" -- with the award presentation.
Less than two hours after getting the award, which happened during what she thought was a routine team banquet, Rivers told ESPN she was still shocked and honored. But it was a culmination of years of hard work.
"Just pushing through adversity. It shows that it was all for something, not all for nothing," Rivers told ESPN. "Of course, getting it for my state, just representing my state feels amazing."
One of those adversities, she told ESPN, was working through depression and wanting to quit playing basketball. With the help of her parents, she pushed through that and is now leaving high school regarded as one of the best players in state history. As a senior at Ashley High School in Wilmington, the 6-foot guard averaged 36.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.3 steals and 5.1 assists per game.
"It's always an honor being able to honor these players with the greatest award you can get in high school," Delle Donne told ESPN.
Rivers made history when she was named Gatorade North Carolina Girls Basketball Player of the Year for a third straight season. She is headed to play at South Carolina.
"From the first time I saw Saniya play, I was hooked," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has said about her. "I've seen her play so many positions, so her versatility is the thing that jumps off the page. She has a jump shot; she can get to the basket; she can shoot Stephen Curry 3s; she has tremendous court vision and is very unselfish, almost to a fault. It doesn't stop there. Her ability to defend, to compete -- she wants to win her battle on both sides of the ball, and we love that about her."
Rivers is also a three-time All-State honoree and a McDonald's All American. She told ESPN she texts often with Staley -- who coaches the U.S. women's national team and has the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2021 -- and tells her that she is ready to come in as a freshman and immediately make an impact wherever asked.
Rivers' top goal as a freshman is to win the national freshman of the year award. Last season, UConn's Paige Bueckers and Iowa's Caitlin Clark shared the honors. Rivers will be playing alongside a former winner: Aliyah Boston won it as a freshman for the Gamecocks in 2019. Boston is a rising junior at South Carolina.
Delle Donne said she told Rivers to just "be in the moment and enjoy these days because time flies." Delle Donne, a two-time WNBA MVP, has yet to play in the 2021 WNBA season after undergoing two back surgeries over last summer. She has not played since October 2019 and told ESPN Wednesday she is still rehabbing and does not have a timetable for her return.
Rivers told ESPN that she heads up to Columbia, South Carolina, in two weeks to start summer school and begin her career as a college basketball player.