Windward reloads with more top girls’ basketball players

Freshman Juju Watkins of Windward is the latest top girls' basketball player for the Wildcats.
(Nick Koza / For The Times)

L.A. Windward girls’ basketball coach Vanessa Nygaard keeps getting to work with top players. She loses All-American Charisma Osborne to UCLA and freshmen Juju Watkins and Skye Belker arrive and junior Michelle Duchemin becomes eligible after having to sit out all last season following her transfer from Beverly Hills.

It all means defending state champion Sierra Canyon will get more competition in league play and in the playoffs from Windward, which improved to 4-0 on Wednesday night with a 68-53 victory over Harvard-Westlake in the Redondo Union tournament. Windward won the Southern Section Open Division title last season but lost to Sierra Canyon in the regional playoffs.

Windward looks more balanced this season with a variety of players capable of stepping up to contribute. The 6-foot-1 Watkins could one day follow the All-American path of former Windward standouts Jordin Canada and Osborne.

“I think I’m very lucky,” Nygaard said of Watkins. “She’s big and strong, a good shooter and she’s creative.”


Watkins scored 15 points and fellow freshman Belker had 14 points. Duchemin led the way with 17 points. Harvard-Westlake’s Kiki Iriafen finished with 30 points.

It’s already looking like a very strong team contingent around Southern California. Besides Windward and Sierra Canyon, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Lynwood, Etiwanda and Corona Centennial figure prominently. Lynwood is also 2-0 in the Redondo tournament and advances ahead of Windward because it allowed fewer points in its two games.

The semifinals on Friday will feature Etiwanda against Lynwood at 6 p.m., followed by Mater Dei against Chaminade at 7:30 p.m. Chaminade received 17 points from Alexis Whitfield in a 64-27 win over Redondo.