Sierra Canyon’s Juju Watkins announces USC as college choice

Sierra Canyon High star Juju Watkins announces she'll attend USC during a news conference Tuesday.
Sierra Canyon High star Juju Watkins, the No. 1 girls’ basketball recruit in the nation, announces she will attend USC during a news conference Tuesday.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

She posed for the camera, a USC jacket zipped up to her chin, toothy grin encased in a red Trojans hood.

That was a decade ago, a picture of the 6-year-old Juju Watkins immortalized Tuesday morning. Minutes after the Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High star uttered the words that would usher in a new era of USC women’s basketball — “There’s no place like home” — aunt Trescelle Watkins came up to her, showing the photo, asking whether she remembered.

Watkins nodded, smiling, whisked away to hug after hug from a crowd of family members, always there through the painful and the proud for the girl from Watts.

“To just be born and raised here, and to have a community behind me,” a red-eyed Watkins told The Times in between sniffles, “is amazing. And to just continue my L.A. legacy … I just think that hits different when I’m born and raised here and I get to continue my journey.”


That journey began its next steps inside Sierra Canyon’s gym Tuesday when Watkins, a senior, announced her commitment to play at USC next season live on ESPN as a crowd of teammates, friends, family and other Sierra Canyon athletes sat behind her.

Technical difficulties delayed the announcement for half an hour, Watkins waiting patiently and petting a puppy, named “Guapo,” her family had gotten just a week earlier. When the time came, she spoke confidently. Proudly.

“I will be spending the next four years at the University of Southern California,” she announced, as family members unveiled a USC banner behind her that read “HOME.”

The truth: Watkins hadn’t decided her commitment until Monday.

Two weeks ago, she had zero idea of what she would do. After transferring to Sierra Canyon and leading the Trailblazers to an Open Division state championship, elevating her platform to becoming the most recognizable face across the nation in girls’ high school basketball, she had narrowed a long-awaited college commitment list to three schools: USC, South Carolina and Stanford.

On paper, the choice seemed obvious. The Gamecocks had just won a national championship. The Trojans had just finished 12-16. Bronny James, in the parking lot after the announcement, even said as much, believing Watkins would pick South Carolina.

“When you look at all the schools,” her father, Robert, said of USC, “that would be the last choice, in regards to rosters.”

Yet Watkins visited USC first and said something just stuck with her. After deliberating, spending chunks of time alone in her room, she told her dad firmly of her choice during a car ride to school.


“Dad, this is it,” Robert Watkins recalled her saying.

It seemed as if USC was it all along, even as Watkins was sorting through her options. She grew up in Watts, her family there always a source of comfort in the rare moments when jumpers fell short or games went sideways at L.A. Windward, where she played two seasons, and Sierra Canyon.

Before she even her seat at the podium Tuesday, her eyes already welled with tears, a family member passed her a pair of sunglasses and told her to take a deep breath. Teammate and best friend Mackenly Randolph sat behind her, rubbing her shoulders for a moment.

The USC decision made Watkins emotional, her mother, Sari, said, because she wants to give her community a spotlight in a Trojans uniform. To bring a legacy to a rebuilding USC program and, in turn, back to Watts.

“I’m really glad she really chose and picked with her heart,” Randolph said. “And this is truly where she wants to be. She’s an L.A. girl.”

The hometown kid is on the way.