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The queens of March Madness: USC's freshman guard Juju Watkins and her USC Trojans

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

JuJu Watkins has all the assets. She's got a jump shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Elevating? Deep? You bet - JuJu.

(CHEERING)

CHANG: She's got size and speed.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Watkins wants to push.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Boom. And one. Go to...

(CHEERING)

CHANG: And she has style. She wears her hair in a trademark bun, though not always, as our producer Jason Fuller found out.

JASON FULLER, BYLINE: I have my hair up in a bun. You know, the inspo (ph)...

JUJU WATKINS: Looks great.

FULLER: I thought that we could be matching a little bit, but, you know...

WATKINS: That's on me. That's my bad.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Her hair was down. It's been a banner year for women's college basketball, with viewership up 60% across national networks. So with March Madness upon us, we talked with some of the star players poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Today, University of Southern California freshman guard, JuJu Watkins.

WATKINS: I watched a lot of Candace Parker growing up. And, of course, LeBron was my generation. He's so influential. I try to model my, like, game and, like, compassion after them.

CHANG: LeBron James has, in turn, come out to see the USC women's team play. Even USC legend Cheryl Miller has paid for tickets.

WATKINS: Yeah, I mean, I'm always in shock. Like, I mean, Cheryl's the GOAT of women's basketball. So for her to really buy tickets when she probably could have got them for free is crazy.

SHAPIRO: Watkins is from Southern California, from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. JuJu's great-grandfather established the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, an anti-poverty nonprofit, after the 1965 Watts riots. She volunteered there as a kid, and that's all part of her decision to attend USC.

WATKINS: Yeah, I think USC - there's a rich history here, and I'm glad to be a part of that. So that was a big part of my decision-making process. And then just wanting to stay home and really just grow my roots here in LA and have that reach. I think that it was important for me since I value my community so much and where I'm from.

CHANG: Watkins says she believes she's continuing to grow as a person and as a player. But as a freshman, Watkins has already led her team to a conference championship while becoming the second-leading scorer in Division 1. And she says her squad is peaking at the right time.

WATKINS: We're finally like a true team now. I feel like everybody knows their role, knows their spots. And I think that, as we continue to just stay level-headed throughout everything, even coming off a championship, we're not satisfied.

CHANG: JuJu Watkins and her No. 1-seeded USC Trojans play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi this Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR. DRE SONG, "THE NEXT EPISODE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Fuller
Patrick Jarenwattananon