No. 1 women’s basketball recruit Juju Watkins commits to USC

No. 1 women’s basketball recruit Juju Watkins, who grew up 10 miles from the USC campus, signed her national letter of intent Tuesday with the Trojans.

Watkins, who picked USC over finalists South Carolina and Stanford, is a two-time gold medalist with USA Basketball, a defending California state champion at Sierra Canyon High School and the state’s reigning Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

The 17-year-old, who grew up in Watts, is in line to join a list of USC basketball legends who grew up in the Los Angeles area, including Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson.

“I didn’t want to rush this process,” Watkins said. “A lot of people in my class had already committed before me, and I definitely was taking my time. But I want to make sure it was 1,000 percent where I wanted to go.”

Watkins joins Malia Samuels, a 5-foot-6 guard from Seattle’s Garfield High School, in coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s 2022-23 recruiting class. Samuels is the No. 49 prospect in the 2023 espnW 100.

Watkins, a versatile 6-2 guard, averaged 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.0 blocks last season for Sierra Canyon en route to the state title. Last summer, she started all seven games as a member of the USA Basketball Women’s U17 National Team and averaged a team-high 13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals.

Watkins becomes the third top-10 recruit to sign with USC since espnW started its national rankings in 2007, joining No. 7 Jordan Adams in 2012 and No. 8 Aaliyah Gayles in 2022.

USC hasn’t won a national championship since it went back-to-back in 1983 and 1984. It last won a conference title in 1994 and the conference tournament in 2014. But its list of alums are as decorated as those from any school: Cooper-Dyke, a two-time NCAA champion, four-time WNBA champion and former USC coach; Miller, a two-time NCAA champion, three-time Naismith Player of the Year and the program’s all-time leading scorer; Leslie, a Naismith Award winner, four-time Olympic gold medalist, and two-time WNBA champion; and Thompson, the first college player drafted into the WNBA, its second-leading scorer all time and a four-time WNBA champion.

Watkins is now poised to join the Trojans’ legendary LA-to-USC starting five.

Growing up in Watts, Watkins started playing basketball at the age of 7 despite her parents’ desire for her to play tennis like Venus Williams and Serena Williams. Every day, she’d practice with her parents, Sari and Robert, in the backyard or at the Watts gym named after her great-grandfather, Ted Watkins Sr., a civil rights activist in the 1960s.

Before her junior year in high school, Watkins transferred from Windward in Los Angeles to Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth, California, and joined coach Alicia Komaki’s championship team. At Sierra Canyon, Watkins quickly found success and fame. Despite the school boasting famous last names like James and Kardashian, Watkins became her own celebrity and helped fill the stands during the 2021-22 girls’ basketball season.

In February 2022, she became the first high school athlete to sign with Klutch Sports Group for NIL representation. This October, Watkins finalized an NIL endorsement deal with Nike, alongside Sierra Canyon classmate Bronny James, Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark, Stanford guard Haley Jones and top 2023 guard DJ Wagner.

“Juju has been in the national spotlight since seventh grade,” Komaki said. “When she first came to Sierra Canyon, she knew that she carried a name with her and she understood that. She understood her responsibility to the game because of who she is. And when she plays in college, she’ll do the same thing . The name on the front will be just as important as the name on the back.”

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