JuJu Watkins is already a legend.
How does a Gatorade National Player of the Year and Naismith Award winner live up to the hype and expectations of contributing right away for a Division I basketball program? Block out the noise and just play your game.
That's easier said than done, but JuJu Watkins already seems to be handling all the attention as if it's just another day on the court.
The 6-foot-2 freshman guard for the USC Trojans women's basketball team made her collegiate debut against No. 7 Ohio State in the team's season opener Monday night at the Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and the results were historic.
Watkins, the No. 1 recruit out of Sierra Canyon (California) High School, poured in a game-high 32 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Her performance helped the No. 21 Women of Troy to an 83-74 upset over the Buckeyes, their first season-opening victory over a ranked opponent since 1990. That was the year another highly touted freshman named Lisa Leslie made her USC debut with 30 points in a win over seventh-ranked Texas.
JuJu Watkins in her college debut ?
W vs. Ohio State ?? pic.twitter.com/FUCnad4QQi
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 6, 2023
"I don't worry too much about what other people think I should do or how they think I should approach the game," Watkins told reporters during Pac-12 Media Day last month. "Just always thinking of my goals and how I plan to approach the game."
As a senior at Sierra Canyon, Watkins averaged 27.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. During the McDonald's All-American Game, she scored 25 points to earn co-MVP honors. She was the recipient of the USA Today High School Player of the Year, Naismith and Gatorade National Player of the Year awards.
USC became the first school ever to sign both the Naismith national boys and girls winners in the same year when it signed Watkins and Isaiah Collier. Collier won the Naismith award after averaging 19.6 points and 6.8 assists as a senior at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia. Collier scored 18 points in his debut Monday night as a Trojan, leading his team to a win over Kansas State, also in Las Vegas.
Watkins' poise can perhaps be explained by the fact she has practiced with NBA players, appeared in TV commercials and signed an endorsement deal with Nike. So she doesn't appear to be intimidated by being thrown into the spotlight and mentioned with LSU's Angel Reese and Iowa's Caitlin Clark.
USC women's head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who took over the program in 2021, led the Trojans to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years last season before being eliminated in the first round by South Dakota State in overtime. They haven't made consecutive appearances in the tournament since 2005-06. It's also been a while since the Women of Troy have had a superstar the caliber of Watkins. Long gone are names such as Leslie, Cheryl Miller and Tina Thompson.
That may change with the addition of Watkins, who became only the second Gatorade girls basketball player of the year to sign with the program. The other was Leslie. It's still early, and injuries along with the long grind of a season can change things in a heartbeat. Watkins, however, seems to be as great as advertised. USC fans should have a lot of fun watching her in action for the next few years.
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