Juju Watkins stars in McDonald's All-American Game; Bronny James, Jared McCain impress

HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 28: JuJu Watkins #12 of the West team celebrates after making a three point shot during the the 2023 McDonald's High School Girls All-American Game at Toyota Center on March 28, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)
Sierra Canyon's Juju Watkins (12) of the West team celebrates after she made a three-pointer during the McDonald's All-American girls' game Tuesday night in Houston. She was named co-MVP. (Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)

Before she even loaded up to release, Juju Watkins was sticking her tongue out.

Before the shot even left her fingertips, Watkins was smiling.

After another bucket dropped during a 25-point performance in the McDonald’s All-American girls' game in Houston, the generational Sierra Canyon senior threw a pair of three-finger signs up and pranced around the court. It’s that confidence, that joy that has made Watkins the face of a new generation of basketball talent — and the USC commit reasserted her place among some of the top players in the nation Tuesday night, named the game’s co-most valuable player along with Hannah Hidalgo of Paul VI (New Jersey).

A week earlier, Watkins was presented with the Naismith player of the year award at Sierra Canyon, a massive trophy she joked weighed “like 100 pounds.” That, and her McDonald’s jersey, rounded out a trophy case from a high school career that rivals anyone’s in Southern California girls’ basketball history.

The shotmaking that has made her the top recruit in the nation was on full display Tuesday night on an ESPN-televised stage, earning her another wave of admirers as she heads into the next phase of her journey at USC.

“I’m just proud,” Watkins said Monday, “that I can be a part of that Trojan legacy also.”

The next step in her game? Throw down a dunk. She can get her knuckles over the rim, the 6-foot-1 guard said Monday, pointing at her fingers.

“Hopefully by next year,” Watkins grinned.

Bronny James, Jared McCain impress

It was a shining moment for Southern California boys’ basketball: Sierra Canyon senior Bronny James and Corona Centennial’s Jared McCain sharing the floor as time wound down in the McDonald's All-American boys' game Tuesday night.

And with a couple of minutes to play, McCain — The Times’ player of the year for 2022-23 — drove baseline to find James in the corner for his fifth three-pointer of the night, the two slapping hands after the make.

A simple preview, plain and simple, of the skills each will bring to college ball: Duke commit McCain a steady facilitator capable of warping defenses, unknown commit James a timely shotmaker. James, in particular, stood out amid constant scrutiny over whether he deserved his spot in an All-American jersey, scoring 15 points and impressing attendees on social media with his feel for the game.

USC commit Isaiah Collier excelled with 25 points but missed two late free throws. The West fell to the East 109-106.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.