Column: No drought in Southland when it comes to future sports stars

Villa Park shortstop Gavin Grahovac will be one of the top prospects in 2023.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

If you cover high school sports long enough no matter where you live in America, there’s a good chance at least one athlete will make it to the professional ranks.

The exception is Southern California, where there are so many future stars living among us that you can visit a T-ball field, swimming pool, gymnasium, park, beach, golf course or soccer field to find a singular talent.

It’s no wonder predictions of greatness start at age 5, gather momentum at 10, pick up steam at 13, then the surreal life sets in dealing with college recruiters, picking a high school, picking a private coach, learning about rankings and planning for the future.


As the 2021-22 high school sports season comes to an end, fans in Southern California are fortunate because there is no drought in talent. The trajectory continues to be endless. COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges. Some families left California but many stayed while others could be coming back.

Let’s take a peek at what 2022-23 has in store in terms of whom we get to watch:

  • Juju Watkins of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon and Alyssa Thompson of Studio City Harvard-Westlake are the best in the nation for their age — Watkins in basketball and Thompson in soccer. They are rare female high school athletes already with NIL deals. We’ll be seeing and hearing about them on ESPN in the coming years. Thompson is committed to Stanford. Watkins soon will be making a college decision. They are seniors with extraordinary skills.
  • Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos is the quarterback commit Lincoln Riley brought with him when he moved from Oklahoma to USC. He’ll be a senior who has stayed all four years at the same public school. He has his best collection of talent around him yet.
  • Elijah Brown of Santa Ana Mater Dei is entering his junior year and has never lost a game at quarterback. While turbulence continues to engulf the Monarchs, Brown stays above the fray, navigating a pressure-filled position at a school that has produced three Heisman Trophy winners.
  • Peyton Woodyard of Bellflower St. John Bosco is a junior defensive back being wooed to leave Southern California by seemingly every top college program. His character is off the charts, his work ethic is unwavering and his understanding of how to treat others is a case study of what happens in the recruiting world when coaches see talent that matches character.
  • Brady Smigiel of Newbury Park is a 6-foot-4 incoming freshman quarterback and the son of new head coach Joe Smigiel. He looks the part of a phenom. Let’s see how this one plays out.
  • Bronny James of Sierra Canyon is entering his senior year of basketball. Injuries the last two years have prevented any major leaps in development, though there have been flashes of what could be. It’s a key year to show where he might be headed on and off the court.
  • Gavin Grahovac of Villa Park is going to be the talk of high school baseball in Southern California. He’s the best pro prospect, a hitter extraordinaire with power and the friendly personality to make others like him. San Juan Capistrano JSerra coach Brett Kay called him “the best player on the planet.”
  • Rodrick Pleasant of Gardena Serra is the fastest teenager in California. He broke a 37-year-old state record by running the 100 meters in 10.14 seconds. He also loves football. He’s a cornerback and receiver who should be electrifying returning kickoffs this fall.
  • Dijon Stanley of Granada Hills has made it his passion to show that you can be an athlete in the City Section and get attention. He was the third-place finisher in the state meet in the 400 at 47.51. He’ll take that speed and return to running the football for the Highlanders. The scholarship offers are starting to pile up.
  • Ella Parker of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame is an Oklahoma softball commit who’s always good for a home run or two if the opponent ever decides to pitch to her. She had 11 home runs this season. Her uncle is Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
  • Twin brothers Leo and Lex Young of Newbury Park are distance runners continuing to chase records established by their older brother, Nico, who runs for Northern Arizona. In their senior year, anything will be possible.
  • Rex Maurer of Los Angeles Loyola came close to setting a state record in the 500 freestyle while winning three Southern Section Division I championships as a junior in swimming. Think future Olympian.

There are many more athletes to be seen in water polo, volleyball, golf and lacrosse. Enjoy your summer break, because the next school year has the chance to be entertaining and enlightening.