Two-Time WNBA Champion Candace Parker Surprised Watkins with Honor
CHATSWORTH, Calif., March 13, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In its 38th year of honoring the nation’s most elite high school athletes, Gatorade today announced Juju Watkins of Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Calif. is the 2022-23 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Watkins won the prestigious award for her accomplishments on and off the court, joining an impressive group of former Gatorade National Girls Basketball Players of the Year who have combined for more than nine WNBA MVP awards, 53 All-Star appearances, 15 WNBA championships, 15 WNBA first round draft picks and two became Hall of Famers.
Two-time WNBA champion and two-time Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year Candace Parker surprised Watkins with the news, while her family, coaches and teammates showed up with the trophy at school. Check out a video of the announcement here.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes athletes not just for their excellence on the playing surface, but for their commitment in the classroom and impact in their community. Watkins was selected from nearly half a million other student-athletes who play girls basketball nationwide, topping the list of state winners in girls basketball who collectively boast an incredible list of accomplishments, including 30 with signed National Letters of Intent to play girls basketball at Division I colleges/universities and 38 with a GPA of 3.5 and above.
“Juju was in the conversation as one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2023 prior to playing her first high school game,” said Chris Menning, a national evaluator for Blue Star Basketball and U.S. Junior Nationals. “She truly separated herself from her peers as an upperclassman—her game continually evolved. A power guard who attacks the court with strength and vision, she still makes plays even when shots aren’t falling. Her competitiveness and character make her a welcome addition to the legacy of the Gatorade National Player of the Year.”
The 6-foot-2 senior guard led the Trailblazers to a 31-1 record and the statewide CIF Open Division tournament semifinals this past season. California’s returning Gatorade Player of the Year, Watkins averaged 27.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, sparking Sierra Canyon to the CIF-Southern Section Open Division title. A McDonald’s All-American, she led the USA Basketball Women’s U17 National Team to the FIBA World Cup championship last summer, earning tournament MVP honors. She’s also ranked as the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2023 by ESPN and scored a career-high 60 points Jan. 31 against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High.
Watkins has volunteered locally on behalf of Hands for Hope, Shoes for Souls and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee as well as toy donation drives, a food bank and youth basketball camps.
Watkins has maintained a 3.72 GPA in the classroom. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball on scholarship at University of Southern California this fall.
In addition to excellence on and off the field of play, Gatorade Players of the Year also pay it forward for the next generation. As part of Gatorade’s Play it Forward initiative, Watkins will receive a grant to give to a 501c3 youth sports charity, which includes Gatorade’s social impact partners – Athlete Ally, Laureus USA, Move United, Women’s Sports Foundation and Up2Us Sports – supporting Gatorade’s ambition to fuel the future of sport.
“Juju’s dedication on and off the field of play has earned her a spot within the prestigious Gatorade Player of the Year family, a distinction shared by sports icons such as Jayson Tatum, Derek Jeter, Elena Delle Donne and countless community leaders,” said Gatorade Portfolio president and general manager Michael Del Pozzo. “We can’t wait to see the impact she makes on and off the court going forward.”
Each year, a selection committee evaluates the nation’s top talent to choose one state winner from each of the 50 states as well as Washington D.C., in 12 different sports: football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls track & field. In all, 608 athletes are honored each year. From the pool of state winners, one national winner is selected in each of the 12 sports.
To learn more about the Gatorade Player of the Year program, check out past winners or to nominate student-athletes, visit playeroftheyear.gatorade.com or follow us on social media on Facebook at facebook.com/GatoradePOY, Instagram at instagram.com/Gatorade and Twitter at twitter.com/Gatorade.
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SOURCE The Gatorade Company