Freshman forward and five-star recruit Ashlyn Watkins is among basketball greats such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal in being named to the McDonald’s All-American game roster in 2022. She was also one of only three women in history to win the dunk contest at the game.
“It means a lot to me. This is a huge accomplishment,” Watkins said after the win. “I just want to show everybody that I’m one of the best in the world. A lot of famous people and great basketball players have been McDonald’s All-American, and it’s just an honor for me to be one as well.”
Now, Watkins is gearing up in her hometown for her first season in garnet and black after choosing South Carolina over other top schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi State, Clemson, Georgia and Louisville.
“I’ve never had a freshman that has come in as physically prepared for the rigors of a college basketball season like (Watkins) is,” head coach Dawn Staley said.
Despite all the offers, Watkins chose South Carolina not only for its location, but also for the program Staley has built.
“I knew that it was a winning program already, and I wanted to be a part of a winning program so that I can learn better and get the chance to be better. It also made it an easier decision because it was close to home,” Watkins said.
Watkins previously played at Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia. Adjusting to college life has been something new and different for Watkins, but being so close to home has made the adjustment easier.
“Knowing that I've got my family down the road, just a car ride away, that made it easier,” Watkins said. “It's faster, it's more physical, it's just all around different. In high school, I could chill and be lazy, but in college, you have to be on go every second of every day.”
Watkins found her home within her home at South Carolina and said she is eager to get on the court with the team and make an impact.
“Playing against good people in practice makes you better, so I know that I will get better when I go to USC,” Watkins said after signing with South Carolina. “It’s very nerve-racking, but it’s exciting at the same time, so I’m very excited.”
Watkins joins a stacked frontcourt group with stars like senior forward Aliyah Boston.
“I just can't wait for people to throw lobs at Ashlyn, she's gonna throw it down,” Boston said. “Ashlyn has improved a lot, I mean she's a freak athlete, she can jump out of this world and she’s gotten so much better at communicating and finishing well.”
In her freshman campaign, Watkins has the opportunity to be part of South Carolina's quest to defend national title.