High school all-star game suggests bright future for Trojan hoops

USC commits win MVP in both men’s and women’s McDonald’s All-American game.

A photo of USC basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb

With the Final Four and national championship coming up in less than a week, all college basketball conversations will turn into predictions for next season. For USC Trojans fans, that talk began Tuesday night.

The annual McDonald’s All-American Game featuring the best high school basketball players in the nation was played in Houston Tuesday night, and two players did all they could to steal the show.

The two notable All-Americans were top women’s recruit Juju Watkins and Isaiah Collier, the No. 1 men’s high school basketball player, according to 247 Sports – both future Trojans.

Despite Collier’s team failing to win, the Georgia native finished the game leading all scorers with 25 points. He also took home the co-MVP honors with Kentucky-bound guard DJ Wagner.

“I am psyched about him [Collier], he’s awesome,” student Shea O’Brien said. “I think this is the best recruiting class we’ve ever had.”

USC finished the 2022-2023 season with a record of 22-11 and earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they were ultimately bounced in the first round by Michigan State. This was USC’s third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but the Trojans have failed to make it past the first round in 2022 and 2023.

Despite some recent success, a handful of students said they were disappointed with the outcome of this past basketball season.

“I think we’re a big-name school,” freshman Ben Gold said. “And for a big-name school to not be able to play basketball at a high level, especially considering the amount of money we make from our football team, it’s a little sad.”

Luckily, Collier will not be alone when he comes to L.A. in the fall. Joining him is his high school teammate, Arrinten Page, a four-star center, who will hopefully make an instant impact as well. But, the Trojans might not be done on the recruiting trail.

One of the stars of last night’s game was Bronny James, the son of NBA legend and international superstar Lebron James. Back in January, James announced that he had narrowed his college decision down to three schools: Ohio State, Oregon and USC.

The prospect of James being a Trojan next season is very exciting to Trojan fans.

“I think that a lot of people will hate on him [Bronny James] just because he is Lebron’s son, but he’s a really good player,” freshman Bain Higgins said. “He’s really smart, really poised for his age, and putting him next to Collier could make a guard duo that USC has not had in a while.”

This sense of excitement for basketball is a new phenomenon at USC. With the football team resurging this past fall, Collier has the potential to lead the Trojans into a new era of basketball.

“I think he will help elevate not only our team and us playing-wise, but also will encourage other recruits and players to come here, which obviously I think would be pretty beneficial for everybody at the school,” said freshman Eli Goldenberg.

And Collier isn’t the only top recruit heading to USC next semester.

Watkins, the top recruit in high school girls’ basketball, is also coming to USC. The five-star recruit scored 25 points in last night’s All-American game on the women’s side and won co-MVP honors for Team West in the highest-scoring game in the history of girls’ McDonald’s All-American games.

Watkins, who attends Sierra Canyon High School with Bronny James, was also a 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year and was named MVP of the 2022 FIBA Under-17 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Hungary. She was also All-CIF Open Division 1st Team in 2020.

“I think she can provide a lot to the team,” said Paige Reynolds, a freshman international relations and global economy major. “We did make the tournament this year, but I feel like now having her on the team, and especially because a lot of seniors are graduating, she’s going to be a huge part of the team.”

Roark Payne, a junior business major, said “it’s always good to have someone that is strong in your corner and your team.”

And while USC’s status is mainly known as a football school, students are confident that these two recruits can change the culture of USC basketball and bring the Trojans to the top of the college basketball world.

“These two freshmen coming in is just going to transform the basketball program,” Reynolds said. “We’re known as a football school. But I definitely think that this is the turn… I feel like [Collier and Watkins] will also draw in a lot of others. So I feel like it’s definitely a turn in the right direction.”