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Juju Watkins: The Future Is Now

A historic women's college basketball season has come to an end in 2024. As Caitlin Clark moves onto the WNBA, her historic college career also comes to a close. With other names to follow in basketball, there is plenty of opportunity to be the face of the game. Judea "Juju" Watkins, an 18-year-old freshman with the USC Trojans, has already excelled as one of these players. One of the best scorers in the country is already proof that the future of women's college basketball is now.

Watkins started as a highly regarded prospect from Sierra Canyon High School, and committed to USC on November 15th, 2022. The Lady Trojan's surrounded her with the talent to compete with the best, but she also did a lot in return. In a historic freshman season, she averaged 27.1 points (2nd in the country), 7.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. Watkins set multiple records in her first year. Her accomplishments include most points in a freshman season (920), and highest scoring individual game by a freshman (51 points). Watkins led the Lady Trojans back into the national spotlight, bringing them out of the shadows. USC finished 29-6 on the season, making it to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament but eventually losing to UCONN. They also captured the final Pac-12 Tournament championship. Watkins was a main key to their success, and she impacted the team in the most positive ways.

The Lady Trojans finished with 29 wins, the most since 1983-84 when they won the National Championship. Watkins was definitely the star for the team, but she was helped by an amazing supporting cast, and coach. Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb (GOT-LEEB) was a huge reason for USC's success this season, with this being only her third year in the program. Watkins put her trust in Gottlieb, and she surrounded her with the necessary players and teammates needed in order to win. The Lady Trojans had a lot of success last season, but weren't perfect by any means. Whenever a team faces adversity of any sort, it can be a hard for a freshman to respond the right way. However, with Watkins it was different according to Coach Gottlieb. "I've only ever seen her respond to anything adverse in incredibly positive ways," Gottlieb said. "She works harder than anyone I know." It has been important for the Trojans to remain successful this season, and it will be even more important next season. As well as improving her game, she needs to take on more of a leadership role, which she is fully capable of. Watkins will be a fascinating player to watch next season, and even her future teammates are eager to play with her.

Playing with Watkins appeals to many highly regarded players, including their incoming freshman class next season. Shooting guard Avery Howell is eager to benefit from the outside given all the attention Watkins draws in a game. "She draws a lot of attention, so hopefully it leads to kick out three's for me. Just being open on the outside perimeter ready for any kick out's that she has." Another freshman guard who is excited to play with Watkins is Kennedy Smith, who spoke about how they went from opponents to teammates. "During my high school years I played against her, so it's always been a battle between us." Smith said. "She does everything really well so next year it's gonna be good to play with her instead of against her." Watkins is capable of becoming both a leader and a teacher, and both Smith and Howell are eager to learn from her. "I'm trying to working on my game and expand my guard skills and vision on the court," Smith said. "So I think just picking up from what she already did in high school, and working out and practicing with her will help me get better as well". Howell went a different route with what she wants to learn, speaking about how Watkins deals with being in the national spotlight. "I'm hoping to learn how she deals with the pressure of everything especially as a freshman. That's obviously something she had to work through and I think that's pretty interesting."

Watkins has many attributes that make her a phenomenal player, but Howell and Smith both mentioned one that sets her apart. They both spoke about her versatility and how she has many tools in her toolkit. "(Watkins) has all three levels of her scoring so it's hard to take away one because she has some other skill she can go to" Howell explained. "So those type of players are hard to guard." Smith spoke about how they can play off each other with the same versatility. "When she has her ability to get to the bucket and shoot the basketball, play defense, etc. she has a lot of versatility. I do too so I think us two together is going to be really good next year." Next season even more eyes will be on Watkins, as she headlines the next line of women's basketball players after Clark.

At such a young age, Watkins is already having a huge impact on the game, both on and off the court. She was named the 2023 SLAM Magazine cover athlete, the first USC Trojan to appear on the covers since 2006 (O.J. Mayo). Watkins also won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and the National Freshman of the Year award as well. She was also the runner-up behind Clark for National Player of the Year. With her historic first season concluding, Watkins is only going to improve with the tools at her disposal. Nobody knows what 2025 will bring, but Juju has the fire and determination in her that will fuel her for years to come.


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