Column: Can any workforce hold Juju Watkins and Sierra Canyon from one other title?
When Juju Watkins walks right into a fitness center, folks concentrate. Since her freshman basketball season, she has been on a path to greatness. Everyone sees it, is aware of it, predicts it. Now it’s as much as her to finish the duty.
In her senior 12 months at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High, Watkins might be surrounded by a powerful group of future school gamers, making the Trailblazers a candidate to be not solely the most effective workforce in California however the most effective within the nation. Eleven of 12 gamers return from final season’s Open Division state championship workforce.
Coach Alicia Komaki has already concluded the Trailblazers are an excellent workforce. But that’s not the aim.
“We want to be great,” she mentioned.
Having the 6-foot-2 Watkins, thought of the No. 1 participant within the nation for the category of 2023, actually helps. So does the presence of an bettering junior in Mackenly Randolph, who ranks among the many greatest for the category of 2024. Together, Watkins and Randolph received a gold medal enjoying for the U17 nationwide workforce this summer time in Hungary.
Opposing gamers and coaches know that Watkins is a trendsetter and generational expertise.
“You haven’t seen anything like her in my 23 years of coaching,” Etiwanda coach Stan Delus mentioned.
“She’s doing amazing things,” mentioned Hana Speaks, the reigning Mission League participant of the 12 months from L.A. Marlborough High. “It’s great to be part of the same generation.”
Watkins is scheduled to make her school announcement on Tuesday with USC, Stanford and South Carolina the finalists.
Watkins appreciates the popularity and respect.
“I respect everybody who wants to play their best game against me,” Watkins mentioned. “It challenges me to play my best game also.”
Etiwanda is the one battle-tested workforce able to difficult the Trailblazers. The Eagles defeated Sierra Canyon 69-57 within the Southern Section Open Division finals earlier than shedding their solely recreation of the season within the regional closing, 60-51, to the Trailblazers when Watkins scored 29 factors. The Eagles return 12 gamers from their 29-1 workforce.
“This year’s group is up for the challenge,” Delus mentioned. “Since we started in August, we picked it up tremendously defensively because it was our main focus after we defended in that last game.”
Junior 6-1 ahead Kennedy Smith and sophomore level guard Aliyahna Morris lead the Eagles, who’ve added 6-1 San Bernardino Cajon switch Myelle Richards. Etiwanda and Sierra Canyon aren’t scheduled to play this season until they meet within the playoffs.
Delus is already considering the right way to cope with Watkins.
“You have to constantly move and shift your defense,” he mentioned. “You have to attack her as well and make her defend.”
Among different groups and gamers to look at, Santa Ana Mater Dei and veteran coach Kevin Kiernan have proficient guards Caia Elisaldez and Hannah Vela.
L.A. Windward returns guard Skye Belker, a Princeton commit and among the finest three-point shooters within the Southland.
Corona Santiago has picked up star guard Destiny Agubata from Etiwanda. She averaged 17 factors final season.
Chloe Briggs from Ontario Christian might be a four-year starter who averaged 22.7 factors final season.
Here is the preseason rating of Southland groups by CalHiSports.com:
1. Sierra Canyon
3. Mater Dei
6. Orangewood Academy
7. Rosary Academy
8. Bishop Montgomery
11. Granada Hills
12. Oaks Christian
13. Sage Hill
14. Corona Santiago
15. Bishop Alemany
17. Long Beach Poly
19. Santa Margarita
20. Orange Lutheran
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