Top basketball recruits JuJu Watkins, Isaiah Collier already excelling at USC

LOS ANGELES (AP) — JuJu Watkins and Isaiah Collier made history before stepping onto the Galen Center court for their first basketball games with Southern California.

Last November’s announcements by Watkins and Collier that they'd be attending USC marked the first time the top consensus men’s and women’s high school recruits decided to attend the same school in the same season.

“I think it’s a credit to both programs. They’ve been elevated over the last few years to be able to attract high-level recruits, including JuJu and Isaiah. And I think both are special talents,” men’s coach Andy Enfield said.

Watkins announced her commitment on Nov. 15, 2022, and Collier made his intentions known one day later. They got a chance to meet each other at the McDonald’s All-American Game in March.

While Watkins is a Los Angeles native and elected to stay home, Collier is from Atlanta and selected the Trojans over ACC and SEC programs.

“We’ve been considered a football school for so long. I think the program has set a foundation that we’re working towards by getting the basketball program here what it used to be for women,” Watkins said. “We both have great programs and are honestly the place to be. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

So far, both have been living up to the hype.

Watkins is averaging 27.3 points, second in the nation only to Iowa's Caitlin Clark, with five 30-point games in her first seven contests with the No. 6 Trojans. She’s also the first USC player since Cheryl Miller to have three straight 30-point outings.

Collier’s 17.3 points per game is third nationally among freshmen. His 138 points through USC’s first eight games is the most by a Trojans freshman since O.J. Mayo had 168 in 2007-08.

Fans might be surprised that USC is the first school to land two top recruits, but Enfield and women’s coach Lindsay Gottlieb have established solid foundations as they move from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big Ten next year.

Enfield’s first-year class — including Bronny James, Arrinten Page, and Brandon Gardner — was his third top-10 recruiting class since 2019. Enfield, who is in his 11th season at USC, has also seen seven players go on to the NBA since 2018, including Isaiah Mobley.

The Trojans have qualified for the NCAA Tournament three straight years for only the second time in school history. That included an appearance in the Elite Eight in 2021.

Gottlieb is in her third season after a two-year stint as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers. She was the first female college head coach hired as an NBA assistant after eight years at California, which included a Women’s Final Four trip in 2012.

“When you think of USC, the first thing you think is football, but the basketball programs are really hot right now,” Gottlieb said. “I think it’s an incredible school, so there’s no reason that I think every top athlete wouldn’t consider us. And for both programs to get the top player, we are both embracing it.”

Watkins’ arrival has marked a turning point for a women’s program that was a national power in the 1980s and early ’90s. The Trojans (7-0) are sixth in The Associated Press Top 25, their highest ranking since 1994.

Last season, the Women of Troy made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

“For coach to come in and almost immediately have an impact and be able to make it to the tournament, it’s a tribute to what could happen in the future. That made me even more confident in my decision,” Watkins said.

Collier ranks fifth among freshmen in free throws made with 36 and fifth in assists per game (4.5). However, the Trojans (4-3) have struggled due to injuries. They've dropped out of the rankings, and are coming off an 89-76 loss last Saturday against No. 7 Gonzaga.

“It’s a learning curve, so I’m still learning from everything,” Collier said.

The games Sunday will feature a rare doubleheader. The men host Long Beach State in what could be James’ USC debut after he suffered cardiac arrest during a workout in July. The women will face UC Riverside.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

 

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