May-June 2022 | Parenting

This Bethesda basketball star is blazing her own trail

After transforming the basketball program at Sidwell Friends, Kiki Rice hopes her talent will have an impact on the UCLA women's team

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Bethesda’s Kiki Rice at Sidwell Friends. Photo by Lindsey Max

When Kiki Rice was in sixth grade, the basketball prodigy and her dad watched a nail-biter between St. John’s College High School of Washington, D.C., and St. Paul VI Catholic High School of Chantilly, Virginia. PVI’s Ashley Owusu, who has been a star point guard at the University of Maryland, dominated the game.

Going to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) games was a father-daughter tradition, and watching up-and-coming players in the powerhouse basketball league helped propel Kiki to hone her game. “I could envision myself playing on this stage,” recalls Kiki, now a high school hoops star from Bethesda and ESPN’s No. 2 women’s basketball recruit in the Class of 2022.

But Kiki didn’t choose to attend a high school in the WCAC. Instead, she stayed for the academics at Sidwell Friends in Northwest Washington, which she’s attended since fourth grade. In March, the 5-foot-11-inch guard helped Sidwell’s girls basketball team claim its first D.C. State Athletic Association Class AA girls’ basketball championship.

Now, the 18-year-old senior has made what some consider another surprising choice by deciding to enroll at UCLA, whose women’s basketball program ranks far below the top 25 and has yet to win an NCAA championship.

“For those of us who know her really well, it was [true to] Kiki,” says Aggie McCormick, founder and executive director of the Fairfax Stars, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team that Kiki played on during summers in high school. “This child decided to go where she felt comfortable, where it was academically comfortable for her…where everything felt right for her.”

Sidwell had “an OK team” when Kiki joined in her freshman year, McCormick says. A year later, Tamika Dudley became Sidwell’s coach after leading Virginia’s Woodbridge High School to its first state championship. By January of Kiki’s senior year, ESPN had ranked Sidwell’s undefeated team as No. 1 in the country, and the Quakers finished the season 26-0. “It’s gonna happen at UCLA, too,” says McCormick, stressing Kiki’s unusual acumen on the court. “I think that a lot of young women want to go and build something somewhere else, and she’s leading the way. She did that at Sidwell.”

Kiki Rice has earned many honors, including being named Gatorade’s 2021-2022 National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Photo by Lindsey Max

Kiki, who hopes to make it to the WNBA, says playing for UCLA gives her “the best opportunity to learn from great coaches and teammates, and also be able to have an impact early on.”

Kiki began playing basketball when she was 5, eager to keep up with her brother, Mateo, now 20 and a point guard at Yale, and her father, John, now 55, who also played point guard at Yale. While she displayed athletic coordination and a zeal for competition as a young child, her prowess is the result of intense dedication. Her mother, Andrea Rice, says Kiki trains at 5:30 a.m. three days a week, judiciously manages her diet and focuses on her goals.

Already, she has achieved several of them and earned other accolades. In March, she became Gatorade’s 2021-2022 National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. That month, she also was named the Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year while Dudley earned a Naismith Coach of the Year award. Kiki was chosen as a McDonald’s All-American in January and has earned gold medals playing with USA Basketball’s U18 Junior National 3X3 Team and U16 National Team.

The basketball star, whose team was undefeated during her senior year, is heading to UCLA and hopes to make it to the WNBA. Photo Courtesy of Kiki Rice

“Her work ethic is unmatched,” says Dudley, adding that Kiki practices during free time at school. But despite being a “big personality on the court,” Dudley says Kiki is quite shy and modest.

Andrea Rice says Kiki stays grounded because their family is “kind of good at bringing people back to earth if it seems like they’re feeling excessively proud of their own accomplishments.” A consultant for Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a company founded by her husband to help organizations recruit and retain diverse staff, Rice says the family often talks about the responsibility that comes with privilege. “There are a lot of people in this area, in her orbit, both in the family and in the Sidwell community and in D.C. who are very accomplished in a whole range of things, and I think being around those people and seeing how they carry themselves is really helpful,” Rice says.

Among those in Kiki’s orbit are Allan Houston, a cousin who played for the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks, and her aunt Susan Rice, President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser. Rice also served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Kiki is blazing her own trail—and takes her role seriously. “Wanting to be, like, part of the next group of female athletes that kind of expands and grows the game for younger and up-and-coming people is something that motivates me,” she says.

After her final home game in late February, a swarm of Sidwell students approached Kiki, seeking her autograph, according to her mom. Among them was a second-grade boy who handed her a note that read: “I will miss you when you graduate, [but] when you do I hope [that] the other players step up and hope you do too,” the note said. It was signed, “your biggest fan.”