Paige Bueckers competes at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup on July 29, 2018 in Minsk, Belarus.
Paige Bueckers was late for the interview. Just months into her freshman year at Connecticut, her car got stuck in the snow.
It was just the latest obstacle the consensus 2020 national girls’ basketball player of the year from Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota — a suburb on the western side of Minneapolis — has dealt with as she transitions to college life.
And as with the other things that she has encountered, Bueckers — the 2019 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year — has either conquered or adjusted to whatever has presented itself.
“It's been really amazing,” said Bueckers, a 5-foot-11 point guard. “The transition from high school to college, it's been really good for me. I'm really close with my teammates. We're like a family, we're really close to do everything together and that's made it a lot easier. I mean the transition is hard. Just the difference between high school and college basketball and just kind of growing up, but it's been really fun and I've really enjoyed practicing and playing and just the whole experience, I've loved it so far.”
In a typical season, Bueckers would have already made her debut with UConn and have several games logged on her stat sheet. But as everyone knows, 2020 isn’t typical. The Huskies, the premier women’s program in the nation, had to pause operations Nov. 23 and cancel their first four games due to a positive COVID-19 test. Among the canceled games was a highly anticipated matchup with Louisville.
Now, Bueckers — who averaged 21.0 points, 9.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 steals for a 30-0 Hopkins team as a senior — and third-ranked UConn made their season debut Saturday against Massachusetts-Lowell. Expectations awere high for Bueckers, who was one of 20 players named to the preseason watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award for the top point guard in the country.
And she delivered.
The UConn Huskies beat Massachusetts-Lowell by a whopping 56 points – 79-23. Bueckers started off her rookie season hot with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Since arriving at the Storrs campus, Bueckers has gotten a quick education in the demands of the UConn program.
“When you come to UConn, it's a whole different level of just how you practice and your expectations and the little details you have to focus on,” Buecker said. “Just how hard we go, we sprint through everything, we talk through everything. There's just a lot that you need to focus on.”
Playing at an elite level is nothing new to Bueckers. While she dominated in high school — leading Hopkins to 62 straight wins before COVID canceled the state championship game — Bueckers has kept USA Basketball on the top of the international competition. Bueckers was MVP of the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup that the U.S. won, while also winning gold medals at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup and 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
But UConn, as you might expect with an 11-time NCAA champion, takes it to yet another level. And Bueckers says she gets reminders in practice that she isn’t at Hopkins anymore.
“It happens like every day, just like little stuff that I would get away with in high school,” Bueckers said of having to step up her game. “I think the pace is definitely what's changed a lot for me. I usually play at my own pace but I had to play at UConn pace so that's definitely been the biggest adjustment for me.”
Her experience with the Huskies and Coach Geno Auriemma has been everything she thought it would be.
“We have a really good relationship,” Bueckers said of Auriemma. “He was really hard on me, but that is the reason I came here because I know he's gonna push me to a whole ’nother level, it's gonna hold me accountable for anything. And he didn't care about anything I did in the past and in high school, like accomplishments, he didn't care about that. He wants me to get better in college and just focus on being the best team we can be. So it's been really fun having him push me.”
Bueckers’ education has also been a challenge. The pandemic has forced her classes to be conducted online. This semester, professors generally give her assignments at the beginning of the week that needs to be finished that week, while one requires a discussion on Fridays.
“I kind of benefit from having classes in person,” Bueckers said, “because I'm more of a visual learner and I like engaging and just having that open relationship between the teacher and I, but I think they've done their best to try to make it accommodating for the students and the teachers.”
Just like she got her car unstuck from the Storrs snow, Bueckers is handling all of the adversity quite well.
“I'm ready for whatever it takes to move on,” she said.