SACREMENTO—There were a bevy of CIF State basketball Championships on the line March 11 and 12 here at Golden 1 Center the home arena of the NBA Kings, but in the end, there was just one shining star.
Oh yeah, there were champions crowned in all divisions, including the most dominant boys’ team Corona Centennial which capped a brilliant campaign by sweeping the Open Division sectional, regional and ultimately the state championships.
Los Angeles City Section Division 3 State finalist Venice offered the most intriguing storyline of the tournament, being the only City Section team in the finals and having the opportunity to become the first City team since View Park in 2018 to win state, but Venice failed against Pleasant Valley 57-53.
However, when the final curtain dropped on the 2021-22 high school basketball season there was just one transitional star player who elevated her teammates to a stratosphere not deemed possible.
If you have not heard about Judea ‘Ju Ju’ Watkins by now well you best get used to hearing and seeing her for years to come.
Watkins, a 6’2 junior at Sierra Canyon, is arguably the best high school girls’ basketball player in the history of California. Sorry, Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper and Lisa Leslie!
Don’t take my word for it, just read what the two women coaches who know Watkins best had to say about her after she dominated the Girls Open Division State Final with a 23 point 19 rebound, six assist and three steal effort that was breathtaking enroute to leading her team to an 85-61 shellacking of Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, CA.
“Every team is special in their own right, but this team is like really special in how much they care for each other, it’s genuine, they root for one another success and obviously when you add someone with Ju Ju’s talent, one of the top players in the country, to the mix of all these really talented kids, I think she accelerated our veteranship,” said Blazers head coach Alicia Komaki.
Sierra Canyon located in Chatsworth is a school of the rich and famous with star children such as LeBron James sons Bryce and Bronny James in the boys program, but this season it was the girls team with the star power with the daughters of former NBA players Gilbert Arenas and Zack Randolph on the team.
Both sophomores Izela Arenas and MacKenly Randolph were huge in the championship playing alongside Watkins. Randolph enjoyed a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Arenas was clutch from beyond the arch.
“The biggest thing with both of those kids is they don’t want to be Zack Randolph and Gilbert Arenas daughters. They want to be Izela and MacKenly and they made that kind of clear, like we’re hoopers and we don’t care who our dads are. Our logo is all work no hype,” added Komaki who guided Sierra Canyon to their fifth state title in the past decade. “We don’t want to talk about celebrities and our school, we just wanted to work and I think that this team did it as good or better than any other teams I ever had.”
Sierra Canyon lost the sectional title to Etiwanda on their way to a 30-2 record, but in hindsight Komaki felt her team needed that lost.
It has really helped that Watkins came aboard as a transfer from Windward where she never won a championship.
“I coach Ju Ju with USA basketball as the head coach for the U16 team. She was on my team when we won the gold medal and was the Most Valuable Player. Ju Ju can score at all three levels even with great defense. She has tremendous skill coupled with incredible athleticism. She had 19 rebounds tonight. The sky is the limit for that kid, if she can continue to play discipline defense and stay on the floor and not get in foul trouble and know when she can gamble to block shots, she’s going to be a pro someday. She is fantastic and she is the best player in her class. I am glad she plays for USA basketball,” said Mitty head coach Sue Phillips.
Watkins averaged 20 points, 5 steals, 5 rebounds and 3.7 assist in the 2021 FIBA 16 under tournament.
She is the first female athlete to sign with Klutch Sports and is the granddaughter of the late Ted Watkins.
“My mom Sari and father Bobby have been great influences in my life. They were both basketball players in high school and they’ve supported me a great deal,” said Watkins.
The next high school basketball season cannot arrive soon enough.