Can any team slow down Juju Watkins and Sierra Canyon?

When Juju Watkins enters a gym, people pay attention. She has been on the road to greatness since her freshman basketball season. Everyone sees it, knows it, predicts it. Now it’s up to her to complete the task.

In her senior year at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High, Watkins will be surrounded by an impressive group of future collegiate players, making the Trailblazers a candidate who is not only the best team in California but also the best in the nation. Eleven of 12 players are returning from last season’s Open Division State Championship team.

Coach Alicia Komaki has already noted that the Trailblazers are a very good team. But that’s not the goal.

“We want to be great,” she said.

It certainly helps to have the 6-foot-2 Watkins, who ranks as the nation’s No. 1 player for the Class of 2023. So is the presence of an improving junior in Mackenly Randolph, who ranks among the best in the class of 2024. Together, Watkins and Randolph won a gold medal while playing for the U17 national team in Hungary this summer.

Opposing players and coaches know that Watkins is a trendsetter and a generational talent.

“You’ve never seen anything like her in my 23 years as a coach,” said Etiwanda coach Stan Delus.

“She’s amazing,” said Hana Speaks, the current LA Marlborough High Mission League Player of the Year. “It’s great to be part of the same generation.”

Watkins is expected to make her college announcement Tuesday, with USC, Stanford and South Carolina being the finalists.

Watkins appreciates the recognition and respect.

“I respect anyone who wants to play their best game against me,” Watkins said. “It challenges me to play my best game.”

Etiwanda, who is coming off a 29-1 season, will challenge Sierra Canyon in girls' basketball.

Etiwanda, who is coming off a 29-1 season, will challenge Sierra Canyon in girls’ basketball.

(Stan Delus)

Etiwanda is the only battle-hardened team capable of challenging the Trailblazers. The Eagles defeated Sierra Canyon 69-57 in the Southern Section Open Division Finals before losing their only game of the season in the regional finals to the Trailblazers 60-51 when Watkins scored 29 points. The Eagles are bringing back 12 players from their 29-1 team.

“This year’s group is up for the challenge,” said Delus. “Since we started in August we’ve grown defensively a lot because it was our main focus after defending in that last game.”

Junior 6-1 forward Kennedy Smith and second point guard Aliyahna Morris lead the Eagles, who added 6-1 San Bernardino Cajon transfer Myelle Richards. Etiwanda and Sierra Canyon will not play this season unless they meet in the playoffs.

Delus is already considering how to deal with Watkins.

“You have to keep moving and shifting your defense,” he said. “You also have to attack them and get them to defend themselves.”

Among other teams and players to keep an eye on, Santa Ana Mater Dei and veteran coach Kevin Kiernan have talented guards Caia Elisaldez and Hannah Vela.

LA Windward Returns Guard Skye Belker, a Princeton Commitment and one of the best three-point shooters in the Southland.

Corona Santiago picked up Star Guard Destiny Agubata from Etiwanda. Last season she averaged 17 points.

Ontario Christian’s Chloe Briggs will be a four-year-old starter who averaged 22.7 points last season.

Here is the Southland teams preseason rankings from

1. Sierra Gorge

2. Etiwanda

3. Mater Dei

4th century

5. windward

6. Orangewood Academy

7. Rosary Academy

8. Bishop Montgomery

9. Viewpoint

10. Chaminade

11. Granada Hill

12. Oaks Christian

13. Sage Hill

14.Corona Santiago

14. Westchester

15. Bishop Alemany

16. West Lake

17. Long Beach Poly

18. Lynwood

19. Santa Margarita

20. Orange Lutheran Can any team slow down Juju Watkins and Sierra Canyon?

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