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Juju Watkins’ commitment could transform USC basketball

JuJu Watkins, a 2023 USC signee, is one of three finalists for the Gatorade National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year award. (Jason Armond/Getty Images)

Juju Watkins is staying home.

One of the top recruits in the class of 2023 announced her decision to play college basketball at the University of Southern California on Tuesday. Watkins grew up just 10 minutes from the USC campus, and her family, she said, was the main reason for staying close to home.

Watkins took great care with her decision, which she announced in front of her friends and classmates at Sierra Canyon.

“I didn’t want to rush this process,” Watkins told ESPN. “A lot of people in my class had already committed before me, and I definitely was taking my time. But I want to make sure it was 1,000% where I wanted to go.”

She chose the Trojans over current women’s basketball powerhouses South Carolina and Stanford, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP Top 25. USC is unranked.

With the Cardinal or the Gamecocks, Watkins would be stepping into a team that is already built for NCAA titles. With USC, she will be a part of the building process. In fact, Watkins will be the central building block for a historic Trojans program that hasn’t been in conversation with elite teams for quite some time.

But Watkins changes that, almost instantly.

“Juju is the best and most decorated player of her class both in the country and internationally, ” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said in a press release. “I could talk for days about her skill set: her shot-making ability, creativity to the rim, dominance on the boards, defensive tenacity and her elite court vision.

“But what I am most excited about is that JuJu the human being is joining the USC family. This is a young woman with transcendent talent, but she is also uniquely motivated. She is about things bigger than herself: her family, her team, her community, her city. Juju had the courage to stay home and is driven to bring USC women’s basketball back to prominence. What a monumental day for all of us in the Trojan family.”

USC was a powerhouse in the 1980s, with All-Americans Cheryl Miller, Paula McGee and Rhonda Windham leading the Trojans to an NCAA championship in 1983. They repeated the feat in 1984.

But recent women’s basketball history has belonged to teams like UConn and Baylor, as well as the last two teams competing with USC for Watkins – South Carolina and Stanford. The Trojans haven’t made an NCAA tournament since 2014, and after being a mainstay throughout the ’80s and most of the ’90s, USC has made just three March Madness appearances since 2000.

Watkins is the kind of talent that can transform a program — or in USC’s case, restore it to its former glory.

The 6-foot-1 guard has been called a generational talent after leading Sierra Canyon to a state title in her junior season with 24.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.0 blocks per game, among other accomplishments, including playing for the United States U-17 and U-16 national teams.

Watkins is a versatile guard, which along with her obvious talent makes her the ideal player to build a team around. And Gottlieb is already working on finding pieces to surround Watkins. Four-star recruit Malia Samuels, a point guard from Seattle, joins Watkins in the class of 2023.

It’s also worth noting that nine players on the ESPN Top 100 recruiting list for 2024 are from California. And with Watkins staying home to play for the Trojans, she could encourage more players to join her in staying home.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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