COLUMBIA, S.C. — Saniya Rivers, the reigning 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year and Wilmington, North Carolina native, will not be beaten.
“Not by anything,” she said.
The 6-foot-1 guard, who is in her first year at No. 1 ranked South Carolina, is officially out due to an undisclosed illness. However, Rivers told BVM Sports by phone that she is currently nursing “a mild concussion” and has not been on the court since her spectacular debut in an exhibition game against Benedict College, scoring eleven points and blocking two shots in the Gamecocks’ 98-41 win while wearing a protective face mask.
Rivers did not specify how the concussion happened.
“But I’ll be back as soon as they clear me to play,” she vowed. It is clear she is getting better.
Matt Dowell reported on Twitter that her nose had been broken due to an “aggressive practice.” The injuries caused her to miss the Gamecocks’ home opener, a 76-45 win against rival Clemson on Wednesday, as well as wins over South Dakota and North Carolina State.
“I actually broke my nose about two Fridays ago,” said Rivers in a video posted Nov. 1. “It’s broken, but it’s in line so at least it didn’t mess up my good looks, I guess!”
.@GamecockWBB freshman Saniya Rivers (a complete natural in front of the camera) on why she was wearing a face mask:
— Matt Dowell (@MattDowellTV) November 2, 2021
Before the Clemson game, South Carolina.rivals.com noted that Rivers warmed up (including several dunk attempts,) but then was not in uniform.
“She should be ready to go on Saturday barring a (not so good) practice on Friday,” Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley told Rivals.com.
If she is cleared, Rivers will make her regular-season debut in Paradise Island, Bahamas, at the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, against the University of Buffalo on Saturday, Nov. 20.
“I’ve never been to the Bahamas before,” she said. “I’m so excited! I’m trying to figure out what (clothes) to bring now.”
Earlier, Staley discussed the strengths that Rivers brings to the Gamecocks.
“She’s an elite offensive player,” Staley told The State.com. “She’s got that ‘it’ factor when it comes to offense, but she also has to play a little bit more aggressive on both sides of the basketball.”
Rivers agrees. The three-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year credits her perseverance to everything she learned growing up in Wilmington. She has been compared to another famous Wilmington alum, the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan.
“Her shot, her slashing athleticism, her lanky frame, they all look like a young (fellow North Carolina native Michael) Jordan,” Rivals.com noted. “South Carolina won’t complain if she duplicates.”
Rivers spent her first two years at E.A. Laney High School, where Jordan graduated in 1981. Rivers scored a phenomenal 1,152 points during her freshman and sophomore seasons. But tragedy struck when Rivers’ family was displaced from their home by Hurricane Florence in 2018. The family had to move across town, necessitating that Rivers attend rival Eugene Ashley High School for her junior and senior years.
Laney High School fans took it personally.
“When l came back to play Laney in my junior year, my stomach was sick all day,” she recalled. “When l walked onto the court, I heard boos. I heard ‘trai-tor, trai-tor.’ I was really hurt at first, but it motivated me to do my best out there. Hate motivates me.”
And it paid off. Ashley beat Laney in overtime, 62-58, to win the Mideastern Conference title and went 25-5 overall in the 2019-20 season. Rivers credited Ashley Screaming Eagles girls’ basketball coach Adrienne Gale with keeping her on a solid path during this tumultuous time.
“(Coach Gale) showed me that she’s a coach both on and off the court,” Rivers said.
The heavily recruited Rivers chose the Gamecocks for several reasons.
“It’s close to home and you have to place your trust in someone who’s like family,” she said of Staley. “She’s a mother figure for me.”
Rivers is looking forward to four years under Staley’s tutelage. After that, she plans a career on a WNBA team and is considering a side venture, like fashion design.
“I admire players like Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker,” she said.
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