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How injuries forced Paige Bueckers to become a better version of herself: 'There's just a maturity about her'

Nearly two years will have passed when Bueckers finally returns to the court, but she didn't let the time away from basketball go to waste.

Photo: Ian Bethune

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Last week’s Weekly:

How injuries forced Paige Bueckers to become a better version of herself: 'There's just a maturity about her'

The last time Paige Bueckers appeared in a game was Apr. 3, 2022, in the national championship game against South Carolina. However, she hasn’t been at 100 percent in a contest since she suffered her first knee injury back on Dec. 5, 2021.

That means by the time of UConn’s exhibition this season versus Southern Connecticut — which is expected to be her return to the court — rolls around on Nov. 4, 699 days will have passed since Bueckers last played a game at full strength. Or to put it another way: 31 days short of two years.

Over that span, the road hasn’t been easy for either the player or the program. Bueckers had the sport she lives for taken away for most of two seasons while the Huskies have endured some of their lowest points in recent memory without their superstar.

While the injuries have been close to a worse-case scenario for everyone involved, there’s a silver lining to it all. Bueckers will never again take the game of basketball for granted and will do anything and everything in her power to keep herself on the floor.

“She loves the game. She loves playing. She's in the gym more than anybody I've ever had,” Geno Auriemma said. “Paige is bigger, stronger. Paige doesn't look like the skinny little freshmen that came in here three years ago. She looks like a college player now. She's worked incredibly hard and all that work is for one purpose, and that's to play the game that she loves.”

The circumstances of the two injuries — a tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in 2021 followed by a torn ACL in 2022 — forced Bueckers to mature faster than she would’ve otherwise. Before going down, she admitted that she thought she was invincible because she’d never dealt with any major injuries.

Bueckers hit with a dose of reality — twice. But instead of getting down on herself, she put her head down and went to work. She didn’t let the time away from the court go to waste and has come back with a professional approach to the game.

“This is the most time she has spent working on her body, her mind, just taking care of herself. And usually a lot of this stuff for these kids doesn't happen until they get to the pros,” Auriemma said. “There's just a maturity about her… She's still a kid trying to figure it out, but she's got it figured out as best as you can be figured out by a kid her age having gone through what she's gone through.”

“She's put in so much this past year, even these past two years with all her injuries. With her rehab, her discipline, she's really changed her mindset. She's grown a lot, matured a lot,” Azzi Fudd added. “She's put in so much time, energy — just so much — to be in this position.”

While UConn may have a newer, wiser Bueckers the basketball player when she steps on the court again on Nov. 4, she’s still the same person as she’s always been. But whatever version of Bueckers the Huskies get, they’ll just be happy to have her back on the floor.

“She's not any different. She's the same old Paige,” Nika Mühl said. “I was just looking at her and it’s like, ‘It's Paige.’ I'm happy to finally have that energy back.”

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