Minnesota native Paige Bueckers was named the Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year on Friday and joins the ranks of other elite WNBA players such as Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, who won the award in the past.
“To be named the national Female Athlete of the Year and not just the Basketball Player of the Year is a huge honor and something I didn’t expect,” Bueckers told Yahoo Sports. “When it comes to individual accolades, this is the most prestigious award you can get in all of high school sports.”
Bueckers is the No. 1 recruit in the 2020 class and is headed to the University of Connecticut to play for legendary coach Geno Auriemma. She averaged 21.4 points, 9.4 assists, 5.4 steals and five rebounds per game during her senior season at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka. Bueckers has also won four gold medals with USA Basketball and was named the MVP of the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup.
The 6-foot point guard has over 500,000 Instagram followers, including some of the top players in the NBA and WNBA like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant, Sabrina Ionescu, Diana Taurasi and three-time WNBA champion and 18-year veteran Sue Bird.
“She does everything on the court and she does it with ease. She can score, she can pass and her skill set for her age is really impressive,” Bird told Yahoo Sports. “The thing I like the most about Paige is the way she carries herself. She has this confidence about her and this swag and that kind of attitude will allow her game to shine and grow that much more.”
Bueckers was having a storybook ending to her high school career after being named a McDonald’s All American and being invited to play in the Jordan Brand Classic — two top honors for high school seniors. She was one game away from her second Minnesota state championship when the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was an odd ending to my high school career, for sure, but we still accomplished so much this year and I’m proud of my teammates and what we did on the court,” Bueckers added.
Auriemma has had a long list of top WNBA talent that has come through his program in his 35-year career in Storrs, Connecticut, and Bueckers has the potential to be one of the best players in college basketball next season. Auriemma has high expectations for the incoming freshman, including a national championship next year. “I am going to be saying, ‘You know what? We wouldn’t have won the national championship without her,’” Auriemma told the Hartford Courant shortly after Bueckers signed with the Huskies. “"By herself, she can’t win anything. But with the people I think we are going to surround her with, I think we can do great things.”
Bueckers is headed to Connecticut on Sunday and will take a COVID-19 test, undergo a week of quarantine and face strict guidelines for workouts and the unusual life around campus. Masks will be required everywhere except the gym, and workouts are limited to four players each session.
No one knows what the upcoming college basketball season will look like, but Bueckers is hopeful there will be some sort of basketball for the 2020-21 season. “I just can’t see there being no basketball at all this season. I’m sure there will be no fans or maybe just conference-only play, but I don’t know. I really don’t know. I hope there’s a season this year,” Bueckers said.
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