Southern California’s JuJu Watkins says she is trying not to get caught up the considerable expectations that have accompanied the start of her college career.
“I don’t worry too much about what other people think I should do or how they think I should approach the game,” Watkins told reporters at the Pac-12 Media Day event. “Just always thinking of my goals and how I plan to approach the game. Ultimately the team goal is to win, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
That approach has worked wonders for her so far. Watkins was named the USA Today high school player of the year. She also won the Naismith and Gatorade national player of the year awards.
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 27.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.7 blocks her senior year at Sierra Canyon in suburban Los Angeles. She was named a co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game after scoring 25 points.
Her new teammates are already impressed.
“It’s very fun to play with her because the competitive spirit she brings, kind of like the energy carries over into my game,” USC’s Rayah Marshall said. “When I see her out there scoring back-to-back buckets and then she comes on the defensive end and she’s locked in and she’s beyond like winning the game. She’s thinking, ‘How can I make my teammate better? How can I make this next offensive possession easier for the next person?’"
Watkins’ college decision made USC the first school ever to sign both the Naismith national boys and girls players of the year in the same year. The USC men’s team landed Isaiah Collier, who won the Naismith award for his achievements at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia.
Some other freshmen who could make a major impact this season:
KK ARNOLD, UCONN
Arnold was a three-time Associated Press Wisconsin player of the year and two-time Gatorade state player of the year who had eight triple-doubles and scored 2,458 points in her career at Germantown High School in suburban Milwaukee. The 5-foot-9 guard also was part of the 2023 USA Women’s Nike Hoop Summit Team. Big East coaches have named her the conference’s preseason player of the year. She averaged 13 points in UConn’s preseason European tour.
JADYN DONOVAN, DUKE
Donovan, a 6-foot forward from Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., has won three gold medals with USA Basketball. Her most recent one came while helping the U.S. go undefeated in the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup. Donovan was selected by the Atlantic Coast Conference as one of five newcomers to watch in the league along with Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo, Louisville transfers Jayda Curry and Kiki Jefferson and North Carolina transfer Lexi Donarski. Donovan had 12 points and eight rebounds in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
MiLAYSIA FULWILEY, SOUTH CAROLINA
Fulwiley will begin her college career close to home after starring at Columbia’s W.J. Kenan High School. The three-time South Carolina player of the year averaged 25.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 5.7 steals her senior year. Fulwiley scored 17 points in the McDonald’s game. The 5-10 guard had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists in an exhibition victory over Rutgers.
HANNAH HIDALGO, NOTRE DAME
Hidalgo set a McDonald’s game record by scoring 26 points in that event. Her eight steals in that game tied the record. She was named the game’s co-MVP along with Watkins. The 5-6 guard was Gatorade’s New Jersey high school player of the year her senior season at Paul VI in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Hidalgo should have an immediate role in Notre Dame’s backcourt with Olivia Miles expected to miss at least part of the season while recovering from a knee injury.
COURTNEY OGDEN, STANFORD
Ogden is a McDonald’s All-American who was named Georgia’s Gatorade high school player of the year her senior season. The 6-1 forward averaged 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds across four high school seasons. She 22.1 points, 89.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game as a senior at Westminster in Atlanta. Ogden had 16 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday in Stanford’s preseason exhibition victory over Dominican (California).
MIKAYLAH WILLIAMS, LSU
This 6-foot guard was ranked as the nation’s top prospect in her class by multiple recruiting services. She was named the Morgan Wooten national player of the year her senior season as she led Parkway High of Bossier City, Louisiana, to a state title. She was Gatorade’s Louisiana high school player of the year each of the last two seasons. Williams scored 20 points Wednesday in LSU’s preseason exhibition victory over Loyola (Louisiana).
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