Sierra Canyon basketball’s Juju Watkins named 2023 Gatorade National Player of the Year

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Juju Watkins and the Sierra Canyon girls basketball team were in the school’s gym Monday morning getting photos taken. Watkins and teammates thought it was the last photo opportunity of the year.

It was all a setup.

Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki had Watkins step out in front of her teammates, acting as if the group was changing its pose for another shot.

“Can somebody please grab a ball for Juju,” Komaki instructed.

After a moment of pausing, out came WNBA star Candace Parker, holding the 2022-23 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year award to surprise Watkins.

“I don’t have a ball, but will the Gatorade National Player of the Year be OK?” Parker said.

Watkins, who has signed to play at USC, won the prestigious award for her accomplishments on and off the court. She joins an impressive group of former Gatorade Players of the Year who went on to outstanding college and professional careers.

Fattal: Sierra Canyon’s Juju Watkins dominating her way into high school greatness

Parker, who plays for the Las Vegas Aces, is a two-time WNBA champion and she was a two-time Gatorade national player of the year.

“Juju was in the conversation as one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2023 prior to playing her first high school game,” said Chris Menning, a national evaluator for Blue Star Basketball and U.S. Junior Nationals. “She truly separated herself from her peers as an upperclassmen — her game continually evolved.”

Watkins averaged 27.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game this season, as Sierra Canyon (31-1) won the CIF Southern Section Open Division title.

Watkins led the USA Basketball Women’s U17 National Team to the FIBA World Cup championship last summer, earning tournament MVP honors.

Watkins will play in this year’s McDonald’s All-American Game on March 28 in Houston.

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