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  • 'I'm not done yet here': Paige Bueckers explains why she's coming back to UConn

'I'm not done yet here': Paige Bueckers explains why she's coming back to UConn

Geno Auriemma also revealed that he doesn't think Nika Mühl will be back next year.

Photo: Ian Bethune

When Aubrey Griffin announced to the Gampel Pavilion crowd that she’d be returning to UConn next season during senior night, she simply confirmed the news that head coach Geno Auriemma let slip the day before. Still, Griffin didn’t feel like she was revealing any grand secrets.

“Everybody already knew,” Griffin told SNY afterwards.

But when Paige Bueckers took the microphone afterwards, Auriemma didn’t know what to expect. It was only when the student section pleaded for the players to return for one more year that any thought of a big announcement even crossed the coach’s mind.

“When the crowd started chanting, ‘One more year,’ I thought, ‘This would be a perfect time to say something.’ It turned out it was,” Auriemma said.

While he might’ve guessed the first part correctly, he didn’t actually know Bueckers’ plans. Auriemma learned he’d have the superstar back on his roster next season at the same time as everyone else on Friday night.

“To be honest with you, she never said she was leaving and she never said she was staying,” he said.

“There was never a time that we were talking… and she said, ‘Coach, don't worry, I'm coming back.’ Never,” he added later.

That wasn’t an intentional omission.

“I thought he knew,” Bueckers said.

Regardless, the redshirt junior was glad to make her decision public. While every indication prior to Friday night was that she’d return, nothing was official until she said it herself. Senior night proved the be the perfect opportunity to do it.

“I felt like it'll be like a burden lifted off my shoulders,” Bueckers said postgame. “To address the crowd like that, I thought it was a great time to do it.”

Most importantly, Bueckers didn’t want any questions to still be hanging over her head in March.

“I talked to Coach (Auriemma) about when I should do it, just wanting it to kind of get it over with,” she said. “I feel like to get it over with before the season hits March and the real basketball, the most important basketball of the year’s being played, I think it felt good to do it then.”

As for the reasoning behind the decision, it wasn’t too complicated. Bueckers is still yet to play a “normal” season. The only full year she’s completed was as a freshman, yet that was played in the midst of the Covid pandemic so there were no fans in attendance and the team played roughly 10 games fewer than usual.

As a sophomore, she suffered a tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in the sixth game of the year and missed the next 19 games. Though she returned late in the regular season and eventually led UConn to the national championship game, she wasn’t her normal self after the injury.

Then Bueckers missed the entire 2022-23 campaign with a torn ACL and while she’s played in every game this year, she’s still working her way back from that injury. On top of that, the Huskies have five players out for the season so even though Bueckers is back, she’s playing with a depleted roster.

She wants the chance to play a year without any asterisks attached to it.

“It’s the fact that… this is like [my] first real season of college basketball and [I’m] coming back from an injury, trying to get my legs back, trying to get who I am back on the basketball court. So [I want] to get a year under my belt and come back again next year,” Bueckers explained.

At the same time, she just wasn’t ready to leave UConn.

“There's just the love for this program. I love playing here. I love being here. I love my teammates and my coaches,” Bueckers said. “Wanting to get more time here, more time with my teammates and my coaches, more time playing at Gampel, more time in the program was the biggest reason.”

To put it another way: “I’m not done yet here,” she told SNY postgame.

Aubrey Griffin’s return

While Bueckers’ news stole headlines, Griffin actually beat her to the punch. She spoke to the crowd before Bueckers and told everyone that she’d be back in Storrs next season first.

“If you guys heard, I’m coming back next year,” Griffin declared to Gampel Pavilion.

Considering all the pomp and circumstance surrounding senior night, she felt like it was an appropriate time.

“It's a special day so I was just like, why not?” Griffin said postgame.

Bueckers still has the rest of the current campaign to look forward to but Griffin tore her ACL on Jan. 3. That would’ve been a difficult way for her UConn career to end.

“I'm glad that she has the opportunity to come back,” Auriemma said.

Now, Griffin gets one more go-around with the Huskies.

“I’m gonna work hard in rehab and go back to what I was doing before and come back even better,” she told SNY.

Geno confirms his status

While there were never any real questions about Auriemma’s status for next season, he confirmed that he’ll be back on the sidelines for 2024-25 — his 40th year at UConn.

“I was (coming back) until Paige’s announcement,” he joked. “No one was wondering whether I was coming back to the same extent that they were wondering if Paige was coming back.”

“Yeah, I'll be back,” he added definitively.

That’s news to Bueckers’ ears — even if she wasn’t consulted.

“I had assumed that when I made my decision, so he didn't have that conversation with me,” Bueckers said. “I’m glad he’s coming back.”

Nika Mühl gone?

While Mühl declined to say whether she’ll be back next year, Auriemma revealed that he expects this to be the point guard’s last season at UConn.

“I think Nika’s looking forward to the next step in her career, from what I gather,” he said. “That doesn't mean that the season ends and she has a change of heart.”

If that’s the case, Mühl is keeping her thoughts and feelings close to the vest.

“I'm really taking it day by day. I'm staying in the present. The only thing I'm focusing on right now is taking it game by game, so I'll have the answer later for you,” Mühl said to SNY.

“When it's time for that decision, we're gonna make that decision,” she followed up during the postgame press conference.

Edwards not yet decided

Like Mühl, Edwards didn’t reveal much about her future plans, only that nothing will happen until the year is over.

“I think that we're just trying to stay present, still a lot of basketball to play,” she said. “The time and place for me to make that decision is the end of the season.”

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