Prior to Hopkins’ victory over Stillwater in the girls’ Class 4A basketball championship game a few weeks ago, I stopped to ask Marc Hugunin, the longtime local high school basketball expert who has written books, published blogs and established websites devoted to prep hoops, where he thought Paige Bueckers ranked in terms of the top girls’ high school players in state history.
“Is she the best ever?” I asked.
Marc thought about it and replied “She still hasn’t won a state championship. All of the others in the conversation – Janet Karvonen, Coco and Kelly Miller, Tayler Hill, Rachel Banham – won state championships.”
Then Bueckers, suffering from an illness that had her throwing up the morning of the championship game, went out and led the Royals to a 74-45 romp. She may not have have been at the top of her game physically, but she was still her fingerprints all over the victory with 13 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals.
Monday, Bueckers committed to play at UConn, unquestioningly the most successful and revered college women’s program, when her high school days are over.
So I’ll ask the same question: Is Paige Bueckers the best girls’ high school player in state history?
The facts bear that out. Bueckers has been a varsity standout at Hopkins, arguably the preeminent girls basketball program in the state, since eighth-grade. She topped 2,000 career points this season and is currently sitting at 2,288.
Her skills are plentiful. She can score off the dribble, has range past the arc, is unselfish, has great court vision, creates opportunities for her teammates and has the innate sense of when she needs to assert herself while never slowing down the flow of a game.
She’s a three-time Team USA gold medalist and is the consensus No. 1-ranked recruit in the Class of 2020.
Said Hugunin: “She's not going to be the all-time high scorer. But with the addition of a state title, she's now checked just about every box otherwise. What is completely unique about her is her international experience as one of the two or three best players on three international gold medal teams.”
Hugunin went on to say that he doesn’t consider playing at Connecticut, while clearly a prestigious distinction, as much of an indicator because “[Geno Auriemma] would probably tell you that Lindsay [Whalen] and Coco and Kelly could have played for UConn, but he missed on them.”
He stopped short of calling Bueckers the best ever, however. Not because she’s missing anything, but simply because her career is not yet complete. “The bottom line for me is that you wait until a career is over to say it was the best ever.”
Understandable. Like lauding Vermeer before he added the pearl earring.
But if Hugunin won’t say it, I will. With everything that she has accomplished and possessing perhaps the most well-rounded game of any of the top players to come before her, Paige Bueckers, even with a year remaining in her high school career, can now take her place at the head of the table as the best Minnesota has ever produced.