Everybody can’t cease observing Juju Watkins. It’s January, and we’re with the USC freshman star outdoors of the Galen Heart. There’s a protracted line of individuals ready on the ticket sales space in anticipation for tonight’s males’s volleyball matchup towards Harvard, however they’ll’t assist trying over at us in curiosity. Because the solar units over downtown L.A. and legendary photographer Atiba Jefferson is snapping away, Watkins is in her aspect and serving seems whereas rocking a knitted cropped grey sweater and cargo pants with a pair of Js. It’s giving main California dreamin’ vibes when, instantly out of nowhere, somebody driving in a automotive close by screams out the window.
“We love you Jujuuuuuuu!!!!!!!!”
Now all eyes actually are on Watkins. She smiles and humbly laughs it off—later she admits that it may’ve been a teammate or one thing. “I don’t know what that was,” Watkins says, whereas sitting on the crew’s apply court docket. “That may have been my teammate truthfully simply trolling me. Generally I get acknowledged, however not too usually.”
Yeah, OK. Whereas she may be humble about all the eye, there’s a purpose everybody calls her “The Juju Present.” Watkins was so massive time in highschool, Chris Brown and a couple of Chainz would pull as much as her video games at Sierra Canyon to observe her play. The No. 1 recruit within the Class of 2023 has had legends like LeBron James, whose son Bronny is at the moment a freshman on the USC males’s crew, and USC all-time nice Cheryl Miller, in addition to fellow California natives James Harden and Paul George, give her nothing however excessive reward. Step onto the USC campus, and also you’ll see her No. 12 jersey within the faculty bookstore.
“I’ve all the time dreamt of taking part in for a university that I like and having the ability to have a lot satisfaction in the place I am going to school,” she tells us. “To lastly be right here and have made that call and be assured [in it] is a dream come true.”
Proper outdoors, there’s a newsstand with copies of the Every day Trojan, and the very very first thing we discover is that the primary photograph within the sports activities part is Watkins dribbling down the court docket with the caption, “USC will want an enormous sport from her to tug off the upset towards the Bruins.”
She did that and extra. A couple of days after her SLAM cowl shoot, Juju dropped a double-double in a win towards UCLA in entrance of a record-breaking 10,657 followers. Her 32 factors and 10 boards earned her Related Press Nationwide Participant of the Week and the Tamika Catchings Nationwide Freshman of the Week. Might we remind you: she’s solely 18 years previous, and sure, she’s already a bucket-getting-dime-dropping-silky-smooth guard with a sport so fluid and pro-ready, it’s mesmerizing to observe.
However let’s not get forward of ourselves fairly but. Really, nah, let’s. That’s what the sports activities world does with each promising younger participant, and to maintain it actual, nobody ever hesitates to declare the dudes the following massive issues. In spite of everything, didn’t the world begin calling LeBron “The Chosen One” again when he was in highschool? Talking of which, even he’s declared Juju is the longer term: “She’s the following biggest factor in girls’s basketball,” he mentioned within the Los Angeles Instances.
As she leads a renaissance of L.A. hoops and a brand new period of freshman stars, Watkins additionally represents why girls’s sports activities is not only necessary to help and spend money on, however thrilling and particular.
“I feel girls’s basketball is consistently evolving, so simply to be part of that and be in that blend is an honor.”
It was simply three years in the past after we have been within the fitness center with a 15-year-old Juju and her pops, Robert, to movie her “Day in the Life.” Rising up within the neighborhood of Watts, Watkins was dropping 30 items at simply 6 years previous and was already so dominant that in the course of a sport, a youthful boy actually picked her up and tried to take her off the court docket as a result of he couldn’t guard her. She’d play within the Westchester Park rec league, and in line with Robert, would even get “upset” at any time when they’d play one-on-one.
“That’s after I knew she had it,” he informed us. “When she began getting mad.”
As we speak, Watkins performs with that very same hearth, however she’s discovered to channel it right into a competitiveness that’s deadly each time she steps on the ground. She transforms into a special particular person, she admits, who’s drastically completely different from the laid-back, chill one she is off the court docket. “Actually, I simply suppose basketball brings out one other facet to me. [I’m] very mellow off the court docket,” she says. “Generally it’s an excessive amount of. Screaming, all that, that’s not likely me.”
The world noticed that facet of her proper from the bounce in her school debut towards Ohio State. Amid a 32-point efficiency, Watkins was clapping and screaming in pleasure after ending powerful layups on the rim. When the win was secured, there she was once more, chest-bumping her teammates. Her efficiency broke Lisa Leslie’s freshman debut scoring file (30). “I feel coming into [my] freshman season, I didn’t actually have too many expectations for myself,” Watkins says. “I feel simply getting my toes moist, I assume as folks would say. However now that I’m lastly in it, I’m setting extra objectives for myself and anticipate extra for myself. However truthfully, on the finish of the day, [it’s] simply having enjoyable.”
She’d break one other file held by Leslie simply six video games in, this time for many 30-point video games by a USC freshman in program historical past. She additionally led the Trojans to a file of 6-0 and their highest AP Prime 25 rating (No. 6) in 29 years. Right here’s one other loopy stat for you: after a win towards Cal Poly, Juju had posted 161 factors, 45 rebounds, 19 assists, 14 steals and eight blocks for the season. In response to OptaSTATS, within the final 20 years, just one different NBA, WNBA or Division I males’s or girls’s participant has put up numbers like that over a six-game span. Guess who it was? LeBron Raymone James.
As of press time, Watkins is posting 26.1 ppg, ranked slightly below Caitlin Clark for highest common within the nation. For Juju, bringing a successful tradition to USC has all the time been the objective.
“I feel I simply wish to actually instill a successful tradition right here at SC, I feel that’s what’s most necessary—that when my teammates and I depart, SC remains to be thriving and doing rather well,” she says. “[I want to] simply be sure that L.A. girls’s basketball is all the time on prime and actually signify the West Coast and the place I’m from [in] Watts.”
Legacy is synonymous with the Watkins household: Watkins Memorial Park is known as after her great-grandfather, an area civil rights chief who based the Watts Labor Group Motion Committee. Juju grew up taking part in both in her household’s yard or on the Watts fitness center, which can also be named after him. Each her father and mom, Sari, have been athletes in highschool and raised Juju to be one of the best at no matter she did. Additionally they gave her the center identify Skies, becoming on condition that their daughter would in the future play on the identical establishment because the Corridor of Famer Miller, who as soon as mentioned that for Juju, “The sky’s the restrict,” per the Related Press.
“[My mom] liked Lisa and Cheryl, she grew up in that period,” says Watkins. Upon watching the Ladies of Troy documentary together with her mother, she obtained to see simply how “inspiring” gamers like Miller, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and fellow L.A.-native Tina Thompson really have been, and nonetheless are. “It’s actually a sisterhood right here,” she says. “I like that I can name on them at any time when and so they’re there for me. I respect that.”
Miller and Cooper-Dyke each helped convey the 2—and solely—basketball championships the Trojans program has ever gained (1983, 1984). These banners are hanging simply above the apply court docket, in clear view from the place Watkins is sitting proper now. Once we ask her about what sort of legacy she needs to go away at USC, Watkins emphasizes bringing USC girls’s basketball again to the highest. However she’s additionally pondering greater. Dreaming greater. It’s not nearly her, however in regards to the subsequent era.
“I owe loads of my success to my household and my metropolis, and I’m simply planning on doing as a lot as I can for youths rising up in the identical metropolis as me and throughout L.A.,” she says, “exhibiting [them] that or being a testomony to what can occur if you simply work laborious and comply with your goals.”
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Portraits by Atiba Jefferson. Motion photograph through Getty Pictures.