If there was any doubt that Sierra Canyon’s multi-talented Juju Watkins shouldn’t be considered one of California’s all-time great players, her now being a repeat winner as Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year ends that doubt. The accomplishment puts her in a group with some of the best players in women’s hoops history, especially the last two who did it — Diana Taurasi and Lisa Leslie. The fact that Watkins did get a closer push for the top honor from another player this year compared to last should only be seen as a compliment to that other player.
For this season’s State Players of the Year in girls basketball among juniors, sophs, frosh and for each CIF division, CLICK HERE.
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Since Cal-Hi Sports extends back to 1972 in naming a Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, there have been just a handful of top-notch players during that time who have ever been selected more than once. In the earlier years of the honor, however, there were several back-to-back repeat winners and two are listed for three consecutive years.
However, times have changed, and the girls’ game in the Golden State is filled with outstanding talent. For someone to repeat as winner of the top honor in the state for girls basketball now is clearly more of an anomaly, with underclass girls having a hard time winning over a senior. In fact, it hasn’t happened in over two decades, but ladies and gentlemen and girls and boys, that is about to change.
The headline last year was “Jumping for Juju” when she was named Ms. Basketball for the 2022 season. Now, after being named 2023 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, Judea “Juju” Watkins is jumping again, right onto a legacy list of all-time greats that are multiple winners, the last being one of the high school, college and professional top superstars of all time, Diana Taurasi, chosen after the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
We were able to speak with Juju earlier this week about her place in state history. We didn’t even tell her about Ann Meyers, the first winner in 1972 who went on to win two more times, or Denise Curry of Davis, 1976 and 1977 winner, or three–time winner Jackie White, who won from 1978-1980 at San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno.
The mentions started with a name everyone in girls basketball still knows, the legendary Cheryl Miller, who even today is considered the greatest girls high school basketball player ever in California, and possibly the nation. Miller won twice in 1981-82. We weren’t sure if Juju knew about Doretha Conwell, who won the two times right after Miller in 1983-84 at Los Angles Locke or Terri Mann, a two-time winner in 1986-87 at San Diego Point Loma, but she certainly knew about Lisa Leslie, the 1989-1990 honoree. Leslie played at Morningside of Inglewood, just west of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles where the Watkins family has roots.
Juju certainly did know about the only junior to win since Taurasi was because she followed 2018 honoree Charisma Osborne at Windward (Los Angeles) before transferring to Sierra Canyon. But Osborne didn’t repeat. She was edged by 2019 winner Haley Jones, and Watkins knows her very well too.
“Thank you so much for this incredible honor,” Watkins said. “It’s incomprehensible to be in such elite company.”
The 6-foot Watkins couldn’t duplicate things this season by helping bring a second straight CIF Open Division state championship to Sierra Canyon, but she did help the Trailblazers earn one of the toughest playoff titles when she had a double-double 24 points and 11 rebounds with six blocked shots in a 70-57 victory over Etiwanda in the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship.
The only other girl who had legitimate consideration for Ms. Basketball this past season was Kennedy Smith of Etiwanda. She and her team got the win with her team in the re-match with Sierra Canyon. It was a heartbreaking 55-54 loss in the CIF Southern Regional Open Division title game where the smothering Etiwanda defense limited Juju to 16 points and 14 rebounds. For most girls that double-double would be a solid effort, but Watkins would have liked more.
Regardless, with what Juju did numbers-wise in leading Sierra Canyon to a 31-1 record after leading the Trailblazers to a 30-2 record last season, speaks for itself and no one can really match it. The fact is Taurasi and her Chino Don Lugo teams never won a state championship when she was the Ms. Basketball award winner.
For the season, Juju averaged 27.3 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game, and she shot 85.7-percent from the free-throw line and just under 40-percent on three pointers with 55 made.
Watkins posted 15 double-doubles and while her season high of 23 rebounds on two occasions doesn’t make the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book, her season and career high 60 points with 21 rebounds in a late January win over Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks will take its place on the Most Points (Game) list in the record book.
The bottom line is Watkins is the most dominant high school player to come along since Taurasi, and her legacy will be remembered for a long time, particularly if she goes on to bigger things in college at USC where she’s committed, and then in the WNBA.
Watkins has had more accolades than are possible to list, but besides being the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023 according to ESPN, one of the most impressive honors is she was the California Girls Gatorade Player of the Year in 2022, and for 2023 she was not only the California winner but the Gatorade Girls National Player of the Year. Another prestigious honor for Juju is being named the 2023 Naismith High School Player of the Year.
In 2021 as a sophomore Watkins averaged 20 points a game and was the MVP as a member of the USA U16 National Team that won the Gold Medal at the FIBA U16 America’s Cup. In 2022 Juju was named the MVP at the U17 World Cup after helping lead the USA National Team to the Gold Medal. Recently Watkins was a member of the Gold Medal winning 2023 USA Women’s Nike Hoop Summit Team.
How does Watkins see her high school legacy and what about the future?
“I would like to be remembered as a good player and person who impacted people on and off the court,” Watkins said. “Not simply a basketball player.”
Sierra Canyon has become a state girls basketball power. Who will take the reigns next year? Does Watkins feel she has been a mentor to the girls following her, in particular NBA daughters MacKenly Randolph and Izela Arenas?
“I wouldn’t say I’m a mentor. I see myself as a peer and sister,” Watkins responded. “I feel I’ve learned a lot from them and we’ve created a bond that will last past high school.”
Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki has won five state championships, and while she’s had some great players, Juju has by far attained the most success and notoriety.
“I think Juju has never settled for whatever level of success she has achieved. She wants more and that requires work,” Komaki said. “Juju has earned every award that has come her way. She is one of the most competitive athletes I’ve ever come across and that trait will serve her well at the next level.”
“Her best assets are her ability to score at all three levels, welcomes contact, an athletic defender and elite rebounder,” Komaki continued. “Of course Juju can improve in all areas. She is nowehere near her ceiling. She’s in great hands with Coach (Lindsay) Gottlieb who will continue to challenge and push her to get ready for a professional career.”
Juju agrees with Komaki. “I plan on being a sponge under Coach Lindsay and learning so much. I plan on becoming a better player and evolving as I grow into the player I want to be.”
It was mentioned that Juju has strong family ties to Los Angeles and in particular the Watts neighborhood. Watkins, who grew up in Watts, often practiced at the gym named after her late great-grandfather, Ted Watkins, an activist who founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee to provide jobs and social services after the 1965 riots in Watts.
Juju had more major offers than you can count on more than one set of hands and toes, but she chose to come full circle and play at USC where the campus is not far north of Watts.
“For sure that was a huge reason why she chose USC,” Komaki remarked. “Family support and Watts legacy.”
“I’m very proud of my community. It means everything to me that I’m able to play a sport I love while representing something larger than myself,” Watkins said. “My family and community is a big reason why I play this game.”
Somehow we believe Judea “Juju” Watkins is ticketed for even bigger things in basketball, but for now the Watts neighborhood and the city of Los Angeles can take pride in the fact one of its native daughters has been honored as the first two-time winner of the Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year award in more than 20 years.
MS. BASKETBALL STATE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
ALL-TIME HONOREES LIST
(All selections by Cal-Hi Sports)
Note: All-time list before 1980 compiled by our founder, the late Nelson Tennis, based on research.
2023 Juju Watkins, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 6-1
2022 Juju Watkins,
Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 6-1 Jr.
2021 Jayda Curry, Corona Centennial, 5-6
2020 Te-hina Paopao, La Jolla Country Day, 5-10
2019 Haley Jones, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-2
2018 Charisma Osborne,
Los Angeles Windward, 5-9 Jr.
2017 Destiny Littleton, La Jolla Bishop’s, 5-9
2016 Sabrina Ionescu, Orinda Miramonte, 6-0
2015 Katie Lou Samuelson, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-3
2014 Jordin Canada, Los Angeles Windward, 5-7
2013 Kelsey Plum, La Jolla Country Day, 5-10
2012 Nirra Fields, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 5-8
2011 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis,
Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-0
2010 Chelsea Gray, Stockton St. Mary’s, 5-11
2009 Layshia Clarendon, San Bernardino Cajon, 5-9
2008 Jasmine Dixon, Long Beach Poly, 5-11
2007 Jeanette Pohlen, Brea Olinda, 6-1
2006 Jacki Gemelos, Stockton St. Mary’s, 6-0
2005 Courtney Paris, Piedmont, 6-4
2004 Candice Wiggins, La Jolla Country Day, 5-11
2003 Dominique Banks, Stockton St. Mary’s, 5-8
2002 Sa’de Wiley-Gatewood, Lynwood, 5-7 Soph.
2001 Loree Moore, Harbor City Narbonne, 5-8
2000 Diana Taurasi, Chino Don Lugo, 5-11
1999 Diana Taurasi, Chino Don Lugo, 5-11 Jr.
1998 Michelle Greco, La Crescenta Crescenta Valley, 5-10
1997 Erin Buescher, Santa Rosa Rincon Valley Christian, 6-2
1996 Maylana Martin, Perris, 6-3
1995 Renee Robinson, Atherton Sacred Heart Prep, 5-10
1994 Nicole Erickson, Brea Olinda, 5-7
1993 Danielle Viglione, Fair Oaks Del Campo, 5-10
1992 Charisse Sampson, Los Angeles Washington, 5-11
1991 Tanda Rucker, Berkeley, 5-7
1990 Lisa Leslie, Inglewood Morningside, 6-5
1989 Lisa Leslie, Inglewood Morningside, 6-5 Jr.
1988 Trise Jackson, Lynwood, 5-7
1987 Terri Mann, San Diego Point Loma, 6-2
1986 Terri Mann, San Diego Point Loma, 6-2 Jr.
1985 Sharon Turner, Oceanside El Camino, 5-9
1984 Doretha Conwell, Los Angeles Locke, 6-3
1983 Doretha Conwell, Los Angeles Locke, 6-3 Jr.
1982 Cheryl Miller, Riverside Poly, 6-2
1981 Cheryl Miller, Riverside Poly, 6-2 Jr.
1980 Jackie White, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 5-8
1979 Jackie White, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 5-8 Jr.
1978 Jackie White, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 5-8 Soph.
1977 Denise Curry, Davis, 6-1
1976 Denise Curry, Davis, 6-1 Jr.
1975 Anita Ortega, Los Angeles, 5-9
1974 Ann Meyers, La Habra Sonora, 5-9
1973 Ann Meyers, Anaheim Connelly, 5-8 Jr.
1972 Ann Meyers, La Habra Sonora, 5-8 Soph.
Note: List also extends back with assorted years back to 1905 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend