During the summer of 2023, The University Of Southern California had an influx of talent for its basketball program. They recruited Isaiah Collier, the highest-ranked point guard for the high school class of 2023. Bronny James, the son of Lebron James, committed after he saw the potential of the program and the players on the roster. Their women’s program also has some noteworthy talent, and their success so far this season is a result of that.
The Program is led by head coach, Lindsay Gottlieb, who joined the Trojan family back in 2021. She rose to fame in the college basketball community during her 8-year tenure as Head Coach of the California Golden Bears from 2011-2019. Throughout her reign as coach, She was voted PAC-12 Coach Of The Year in 2013 and had her first final four appearance. The Golden Bears experienced only one negative season under her leadership, which took place during the 2015-2016 school year. Her success leading the Golden Bears, enticed the Cleveland Cavaliers to hire her as an assistant coach in 2019. She coached in the NBA for two seasons before she was offered the job at USC.
Gottlieb established a new culture for the Trojans once she arrived. In her first season, she had to devise the right system for her girls, and they ended 2022 12-16. Next year, they were 21-10 and now during the 2023-2024 season, the girls have found their winning formula. As of January 7th, They are ranked 4th in the PAC-12, but they have a great record of 12-1. Their first loss of the season just occurred in their PAC-12 opener on December 30th, 2023 versus The #2 ranked UCLA Bruins. The Trojans and Bruins have had a very intense rivalry for years, and this game was no different with a final score of 71-64 in favor of the Bruins.
The Trojan Army is led by new Freshman phenom, JuJu Watkins, and she is averaging 26.9 PPG, 7.3 REB, and 3.7 AST. She is extremely popular and already has an NIL deal with Nike at age 18. Watkins was ranked #1 in the ESPN Hoops Women’s high school class of 2023, and her performances are why she is receiving such high praise. She alternates between the point guard and shooting guard positions for the Trojans, and She is only the second Trojan ever to be named Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of The Year. JuJu is also close with the James family as well because she went to Sierra Canyon High School in the same years as Bronny, and their friendship only brings more eyes to both of their careers.
JuJu is very physical with her approach to the game and excels at driving to the basket with contact. Standing at 6’2, she uses her height very well in the way she will shoot over opponents and take advantage of mismatches with her size. JuJu can use her muscles to power through defenders, and it also helps create shots with her ballhandling skills. She prefers isolation plays because most girls are unable to guard her one-on-one, and her midrange jumper is something to behold.
Her shooting stroke is very smooth and consistent so it’ll always draw the attention of the defense. Her 3-point field goal percentage is exceptional at 44.1%, and her shot IQ is beyond her years. Her court vision is still improving, and she is learning how to survey the defense better before making her passes. Watkins is also working on her defensive prowess to become a two-way superstar for when she goes to the WNBA.
Coach Gottlieb thinks she possesses something special, and is destined for great things as long as she stays focused. In an interview with Beth Harris from The Associated Press, Lindsay expressed her thoughts on JuJu’s inner circle that keeps her humble “ I think we’re headed for some unprecedented things,” Gottlieb said. “She handles all of this with such grace. We try to do a good job of allowing her to be her, which is different and special, but also shielding her from some extra stuff. We’re constantly kind of updating that plan as we go.”
Gottlieb loves how the circle around her star pupil keeps her grounded and involved in the community as well. “She understands her importance in the community,” Gottlieb continued. “As good of a player, as she is, she’s really even a better human. I know it sounds cliché but it’s the truth. Her village and her circle is really adept at putting her in the best possible situation to be happy and to succeed.”
The upperclassmen on the team have also welcomed her with open arms, and have been her veterans throughout her first year at USC. Junior Center, Rayah Marshall, is the leading rebounder of the team averaging 10.3 rebounds per game, and she is really close to JuJu. They’re both from the city of Los Angeles, and they did their 2023 media day together as well.
Rayah is a great defender with good mobility for her size. Through three seasons at USC, she averages over 2 blocks per game for her collegiate career. Her decision making on the offensive end has improved every year, and its exciting for Trojans fans to see her become more comfortable with the ball. She went from averaging 11 points her freshman year to 13 points her junior year, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Her versatility is a major part of USC’s offense with her ability to spread the floor with her mid-range jumper. Her freshman and sophomore year, she shot three pointers, but she has dialed it back for more efficient shooting. Her stats indicate so with her 51.6 field goal percentage. Her two-way play is a product of her hard work and dedication to her craft because most girls her age don’t excel on both ends of the floor at the Center position. Womens Basketball Blog has projected Rayah to be an early 2nd round pick in the 2025 WNBA Draft, and NBA Draft Room predicts she’ll be in that range as well. There is still alot of season left for Marshall to raise her stock, and the ladies are doing great so far which will help draw attention to her good performances.
A major reason they are doing so great this year is because of their new transfer students, and they brought even more competitive fire to the team. From 2019 to 2022, Kayla Padilla was the star of the Penn State Nittany Lions averaging 17+, and hailed as the greatest 3-point shooter in the programs history, when she entered the transfer portal. She met with Coach Gottlieb at her home in California to discuss her potential role on the team. When she arrived, Kayla was greeted by the entire USC roster including Mckenzie Forbes who was a grad student from Harvard. She was a transfer student just like Kayla and they formed a strong bond because of it.
After a long negotiation process with their parents present, both ladies became Trojans that night. Lindsay told the team that Forbes and Padilla would be joining them, and they celebrated by dancing in Lindsays living room to express their joy. Their veteran presence has added so much to the team on and off the court.
They have done alot for the incoming freshman, and have helped their transitions out of high school be as smooth as can be. Mckenzie is the 2nd leading scorer right under JuJu. While playing for Harvard, she made the Ivy League All-Tournament team. During the 2021-2022 season, She was named Second Team All-Ivy League while averaging 14.1 PPG, 3.8 REB, 2.5 Assists, and 1.1 SPG
She is a very aggressive scorer, and this can be seen everytime she is on the floor. On December 21, 2023 Mckenzie had the best game of her entire collegiate carrer versus Long Beach State University. With Juju and Rayah both on the Injury report, Forbes battled through the Flu to explode for a career-high 36 points. Coach Gottlieb praised Mckenzie for her performance while being interviewed by Thuc Nhi Nguyen of The Los Angeles Times.
“Kenzie had her flu game, that I’m never going to forget my whole life,” Gottlieb said. “What a warrior,” And McKenzie gave all the credit to her teammates. “Just a huge credit to this group,” Forbes said. “We came out and got it done, missing a lot of big pieces.”
She is known for her three-point shooting prowess and versatility. Throughout her 6 years, she has shot 35% or higher from three which is absolutely remarkable. Forbes has scored double digits in her last 6 games and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. It is her last year of eligibility so she wants to make the most of it. Only time will tell if she gets drafted to the WNBA or decides to play overseas after graduation this summer.
Their next game is a highly anticipated rematch versus UCLA on January 14th, and the sports world will have their eyes on the Trojans to see how they respond to the first meeting. With these four girls leading them on the court, the Trojans are trying to accomplish big things by the end of the season. Their bench is filled with good depth options, and a lot of the Trojans are seniors so there's a lot of experience all around the team. The freshmen have such good teachers on and off the court. The Gottlieb culture is spreading to all of the girls throughout the roster whether they’re freshmen or Transfer. They have a great coach on the sideline, and a generational talent leading them on the court, so there's a lot to look forward to down in Southern California.
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