HARTFORD, CONN. – As early as May, Paige Bueckers was already texting Geno Auriemma, bored at home and anxious to get to UConn. Then after she graduated high school, the waiting game continued, as the UConn women’s basketball team delayed its return to campus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, in late July, the big day came when Bueckers, her five fellow freshmen and the returning Huskies finally convened in Storrs. With a host of restrictions in place because of COVID-19 (all 11 players have yet to practice together), it hasn’t been exactly what Bueckers envisioned of her first few weeks in the program. Although it has taken some time to adjust, it hasn’t made it any less special as Bueckers’ dreams of being a Husky are finally a reality.
“To finally be up here is crazy,” Bueckers said. “I was just shooting in the gym one day and I was just looking at everything in the gym. It’s so surreal for me.
“It’s where I wanted to be since I was a little kid and so just finally being up here, it’s really exciting.”
Bueckers, a 5-11 point guard from Hopkins, may have won virtually every award offered to high schoolers, not to mention multiple gold medals representing the U.S. But in coming to UConn, she’s hoping that if she puts in the work, she, too, can one day help add some banners to the walls of Werth Champions Center and Gampel Pavilion.
“They have two people here [Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi] that are four-time Olympians, working on being five,” Bueckers said, “and that’s something that I want to do is represent my country and win championships at every level and just succeed in the game as much as I can. Just to see the history which this program has always produced, it’s amazing and it’s something I want to be a part of.”
Bueckers reiterated her goal of winning four national championships at UConn, one that she doesn’t see as all that controversial because “it’s just never a plan for me to lose,” and as something she feels all athletes should aspire to.
Of course, Bueckers knows the road to achieving that is going to be more arduous than she may fully realize. Former Huskies Breanna Stewart, Bird, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson have filled her in.
“Freshman year is probably going to be the hardest year, maybe of your life,” Bueckers recalls them saying. “They said just soak it in and enjoy every second of it and go in with a positive attitude. Just work hard and be willing to be coachable, and it will make it a lot easier.”
Luckily for Bueckers, she has five other freshmen with whom she’ll ride out the ups and downs of the upcoming season.
She’ll also have the team’s upperclass leaders to lean on.
Junior Christyn Williams, also a former No. 1 recruit who has been living and working with Bueckers in their modified quarantine group, is helping show her the ropes.
“Paige is great. She’s going to be really good,” Williams said. “I’m going to be there to help her because I went through some of the same stuff.”
Auriemma has cautioned that Bueckers will not have a seamless first year in the program.” I’m not one to jump up and down and go ‘Paige is the greatest thing ever,’ ” Auriemma said.
“How good is she? Let me put it this way: I’m glad we have her. And there’s some things she does that other players wish they could do.”