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No. 1-ranked Juju Watkins on USC: ‘There’s no place like home’

No. 1-ranked Juju Watkins on USC: ‘There’s no place like home’
Juju Watkins, the No. 1 girls basketball player in the nation, committed to the USC Trojans on Tuesday. (Courtesy: USC Athletics)

LOS ANGELES (BVM) – Juju Watkins grew up in Watts, just 10 miles from the USC campus, and on Tuesday, she committed to the Trojans on ESPN live from the gymnasium of Sierra Canyon High School.

“Well, you know, there’s no place like home so I will be spending the next four years at the University of Southern California,” Watkins told ESPN’s Sage Steele during a live airing of SportsCenter in front of a gym full of teammates and classmates.

The No. 1 girls basketball recruit chose USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and the Trojans over finalists South Carolina and Stanford. Watkins is a two-time gold medalist with USA Basketball and led Sierra Canyon to a California state championship last season as a junior.

The five-star, generational prospect averaged 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals and a pair of blocks en route to 2021-22 Gatorade California Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors.

“Her lines throughout all of the playoffs, even going back to CIF pool play, were ridiculous,” Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki said of Watkins in March after the Trailblazers’ fifth state title. “Even game to game with the more important it got, the more locked in she was and you could just see it in her face. 

“It’s not even really a matter of being nervous or being excited, it’s just how focused she is on winning a championship. When you see that in your star player’s eyes in the locker room before a state championship game, you feel like you’re in good hands as a coach.”

The 17-year-old will now look to lead the Trojans to championships as she joins a list of USC basketball legends who grew up in the Los Angeles area, including Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and others.

It’s been nearly 40 years since USC won a national championship when it went back-to-back in 1983-84. The Trojans’ last conference title was in 1994 but the program has produced an impressive list basketball of alums that includes Miller, Leslie, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (two-time NCAA champion, four-time WNBA champion) and Tina Thompson (the first college player drafted into the WNBA, its second-leading scorer all-time).

“Juju is the best and most decorated player of her class both in the country and internationally,” Gottlieb said of Watkins in a press release. “I could talk for days about her skill set: her shot-making ability, creativity to the rim, dominance on the boards, defensive tenacity and her elite court vision.

“But what I am most excited about is that Juju the human being is joining the USC family. This is a young woman with transcendent talent, but she is also uniquely motivated. She is about things bigger than herself: her family, her team, her community, her city. Juju had the courage to stay home and is driven to bring USC women’s basketball back to prominence. What a monumental day for all of us in the Trojan Family.”

Watkins is the best in a state loaded with girls basketball talent and is just the third top-10 recruit to sign with USC since 2007 (Jordan Adams, 2012; Aaliyah Gayles, 2022). Despite transferring to Sierra Canyon – the school of LeBron James’ son, Bronny – before her junior year, the versatile, 6-foot-2 guard is the Trailblazers’ brightest star.

Earlier this year, Watkins became the first high school athlete to sign with Klutch Sports Group for NIL representation. She then finalized an NIL endorsement deal in October with Nike alongside Bronny, Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark, Stanford guard Haley Jones and 2023 Kentucky commit D.J. Wagner.

The future is bright for both Watkins and USC women’s basketball.