The future of USC basketball is in great hands

Number one recruits Juju Watkins and Isaiah Collier, as well as Bronny James, lit up the Galen Center on Saturday night.

LOS ANGELES — Bronny James, Juju Watkins, and Isaiah Collier opened a window into Trojan future on Saturday night when all three debuted at USC’s storied Galen Center.

Watkins, the number one player in her high school class who committed to USC in November, finished with 30 points and 18 rebounds in Sierra Canyon’s 64-55 win over La Jolla Country Day. It was a dominant performance on her future home court — and likely a glimpse of things to come when she links up with Lindsay Gottlieb’s Women of Troy next season. 

“For me, it was a little more personal because this is going to be my next home,” Watkins told the Sporting Tribune after the game.

A couple of hours later, Bronny scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting to lead Sierra to a victory against nationally-ranked Wheeler (Marietta, GA). USC remains involved in the Trailblazers guard’s college recruitment, although there is no timeline on Bronny’s decision yet.

Down the other end of the floor, Isaiah Collier’s commitment to the Trojans is already secure. The best player in the 2023 boys’ class had 17 points, albeit on 5-of-16 shooting, and flashed some creative playmaking. USC men’s head coach Andy Enfield was front row to watch Collier and his teammate Arrinten Page, another future Trojan.

In many ways, Watkins and Collier — and Bronny, should he opt to play for USC — are tailor made for the school’s basketball needs.

Watkins, who grew up just a short drive from USC’s campus in South LA, is undoubtedly Gottlieb’s biggest “get” until now and someone who the Women of Troy’s head coach can build the ascending program around

“It was about the people,” Watkins said of her decision to commit to USC. “I’m just glad I have the coaches that I have and I got to meet some of the players [who] seem really cool.” 

Gottlieb, her coach next season, sat baseline to take in the day’s games. Heisman trophy Caleb Williams was also courtside for Watkins’ Galen Center debut, having received a personal invitation from the Trailblazers senior. 

“I’m excited for what the next couple of years is going to look like and the future,” Watkins added. “But right now, I’m focused on this team and what we’re going to do this season.” 

After beating La Jolla Country Day, the Sierra girls are now 16-0 while playing what head coach Alicia Komaki has called — for a reason — the toughest schedule in the country. 

Freshman center Emilia Krstevski also had a big game with 10 points and eight rebounds while battling Arizona commit Breya Cunningham.

Meanwhile, Collier looks like the composed floor general that the men’s team has lacked the past two seasons. The Trojans have scorers, but can sorely miss a pure point guard like Collier who can create easy looks for his teammates. 

In theory, Collier’s game would blend with Bronny’s blend of outside shooting and tenacious defense — of course, with the disclaimer that the latter might not set foot inside Galen again. 

Bronny, who has only publicly visited Ohio State, is peaking at the perfect moment as the year turned on his senior season. His performance against Wheeler is in contention for his best ever, as the senior guard stonewalled attackers, came up with important threes, and threw down a couple of vintage James-branded one-handed slams. 

Bronny has started 2023 brightly, having scored 20 points in Sierra’s Mission League opener versus Chaminade on Friday night. His athleticism is rounding out — tree trunk legs, quick pop off the floor, functional strength — and it’s starting to increasingly feel like he can pick when he wants to impose himself on the hardwood. 

Memphis commit Ashton Hardaway, son of Penny, added 18 points to Bronny’s total. The senior deserves to be in consideration for best shooter in high school basketball, and he showed as much by cashing in on a big three in crunch time. Hardaway has been reliable time and time again for head coach Andre Chevalier this season. 

Five-star junior Isaiah Elohim finished with 10 points for the Trailblazers and iced the game with a tip dunk. Noah Williams, a junior big who surprisingly only holds one Division I offer, was equally important with timely buckets, mobile defense, and a hugely important block.

These games were part of the The Chosen-1’s Invitational, hosted by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in partnership with Nike and LeBron James. This was the showcase’s second year after its debut in December 2021 at STAPLES Center. 

The event also featured Mater Dei and St. Vincent-St. Mary’s (OH) girls and boys teams. Mater Dei’s girls beat SVSM 30-62, and the boys won a much closer game 63-61 against LeBron’s alma mater afterwards.

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