The game was over roughly 30 seconds when little girls began streaming onto the court to meet their idol, Paige Bueckers.
The rest of the top-ranked Hopkins girls’ basketball team made its way to the locker room after a 91-64 win at Wayzata on Friday. Bueckers stayed on the court, surrounded by fans. More kept coming, making the scene look like a rock star jumping into a mosh pit.
The mass of people included a 10-year-old girl named Jade, an aspiring basketball player from Bloomington. Her parents usually go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. This year, they brought their daughter to Wayzata so she could watch Bueckers play for the first time.
“I literally begged them to bring me,” said Jade, who got Bueckers’ autograph on her headband.
And this was a road game.
This is the Bueckers effect. A generation of girls — now young women — throughout the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota grew up idolizing Lindsay Whalen as a basketball star. Bueckers is having that same impact on a new generation of girls.
“I’m not there yet,” Bueckers said. “I’m just an 18-year-old high school kid.”
Oh, she’s there all right.
Bueckers’ hoops stardom has occurred in the social media era, which creates a different level of celebrity — and pressure. Kids watch videos of her slick passes and NBA-range three-pointers on their iPhones. She has nearly 350,000 Instagram followers (only 39,000 fewer than Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins). She’s mindful that everything she posts reaches a large audience, including many kids.
Bueckers recently became the first high school girl to appear on the cover of Slam magazine, accompanied by this headline: “The Most Electrifying HS Player In The World.” ESPN.com profiled her last week.
This is a lot to take in, especially for a high schooler. Bueckers handles it all gracefully.
“I take pride in being a good role model,” she said. “If I’m a great player but a bad person off the court, it takes away from my game. I just want to be someone people can look up to.”
Her personality provides an endearing counterbalance to the hysteria unfolding around her. Bueckers is the No. 1-rated high school player in the nation, but she shows no ego. She offers genuine appreciation to fans and fully embraces the impact she’s having on kids and women’s basketball.
“She takes it as a blessing,” said her dad, Bob. “She really wants to inspire.”
Bueckers had her own basketball idols, so she understands her influence. Her spotlight is truly unique, though.
Attendance at Hopkins home games this season has swelled. The unbeaten Royals draw huge turnouts on the road. Basketball fans across the metro come to watch her play.
“There are people that come to games that I’ve never seen before,” coach Brian Cosgriff said.
Bueckers put on her usual dazzling show against Wayzata: 27 points, nine assists, six rebounds, six steals, two blocks. She plays at a different level from everyone else on the court.
The scene afterward was both remarkable and typical. Fans surrounded her on the court until she had to go for the postgame talk. Dozens of fans — mostly young girls with parents — waited outside Hopkins’ locker room for her to emerge.
This happens after every road game. Bueckers doesn’t ride the team bus because she spends at least a half-hour with fans postgame. She either drives or catches a ride so she can accommodate all those who want to meet her.
“She’s on her way,” Cosgriff announced as he walked out of the locker room into a jam-packed hallway.
Bueckers stayed for 30 minutes until every kid got a photo, selfie, autograph or TikTok video. She danced with little girls in their videos, giggling along with them.
She signed copies of her Slam magazine cover. Four girls who appeared to be high schoolers asked for a photo. A young boy waited for an autograph.
Bueckers and her dad were among the last to leave the gym.
“If somebody wants to use their time to come watch my game,” Bueckers said, “it’s only right that I give back.”