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Paige Bueckers plans to put on a show in her return to the court

It might take some time for Bueckers to knock the rust off, but she plans on having plenty of fun from day one.

Photo: Ian Bethune

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Headlines

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere:

  • The USA 3x3 team for the Pan-Am Games will be coached by former UConn point guard Jen Rizzotti and features fellow former Husky Azura Stevens.

  • Dorka Juhász was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team.

Paige Bueckers plans to put on a show in her return to the court

By the time UConn women’s basketball takes the court in its season opener against Dayton on Nov. 8, 548 days will have passed since Paige Bueckers last played in a game. It’ll be even longer — 703 days, to be exact — since she was her usual, healthy self on the floor.

So when Bueckers finally makes her return, she doesn’t plan on holding anything back.

“I'm going to interact with the crowd much more than Coach (Geno Auriemma) and CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) would want,” she said. “I've just missed it so much.”

If Bueckers plans to make her comeback memorable, she’s set a high bar for herself. During her first game back from the initial knee injury during the 2021-22 season, she hit a buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter that sent the XL Center into a frenzy. Based on the reaction from everyone, it felt like Bueckers had just won the national championship with her shot.

After the ball went through, she turned to the student section and threw her hands up in celebration.

However Bueckers chooses to celebrate her return to basketball, Auriemma doesn’t plan to stand in her way.

“I hope she does everything she's thinking and then more,” he said. “God bless her. I mean, who's going to tell her, ‘Hey, you better not do that.’ ‘I've been waiting,’ like she said, ‘a whole year to play basketball.’ As far as I’m concerned, she can do whatever she wants to do.”

At this point, Bueckers has been fully cleared from her ACL injury for over a month and a half now. Even still, there’s a clear difference in her demeanor from the team’s practice prior to the European trip — where she didn’t play in any games — to the sessions in the lead up to the regular season.

“In the beginning before we went to Europe, it was very tempered. So you say ‘Well, how do we know if she's ready if she won't put herself in situations where you need to find out if she's ready?’ Because she was avoiding certain situations,” Auriemma said. “Since we've been back, and I think she knows it's real, she's thrown herself into situations that are just normal.”

Yet as exciting as the idea of the return of Paige Bueckers is, it’s important to remember that she won’t look like the player that won national player of the year as a freshman right away. After being sidelined for the better part of two years, Bueckers will need time to knock the rust off.

Luckily, no one understands that better than the superstar herself.

“I haven't played in over a year so it's gonna take some time to adjust and get my rhythm and flow back,” Bueckers explained. “I think just getting the conditioning back is the hardest part and then just the rhythm in which you're playing and what you did before, then carrying that into the road to recovery.”

“I'll say, ‘Hey, that wasn't bad.’ Or if it was lousy, ‘We waited all year for this?’ And she goes, ‘I don't think it's that bad for not playing for a whole year,’” Auriemma relayed. “So she has her expectations perfectly aligned that this is going to take some time. That she's not going to step out there and be Paige, the national player of the year from freshman year. That’s gonna take a little bit of time.”

Azzi Fudd isn’t totally buying that, though.

“That's just who Paige Bueckers is. She is one of those one-of-a-kind players where you don't see what she has in other players. It’s just special,” she said. “So I have no doubt in my mind that she's going to be amazing the season.”

Either way, that’s why Bueckers’ focus is simply getting back on the court and re-finding the joy that basketball brings her. Whether or not she makes a comeback-defining play like she did last time, everyone will know just how much she missed being out there.

“When people come, either watching it on TV or in in the stadium, they see how much I missed the game,” Bueckers said. “I think just my passion and my joy, I'm just getting that back and just having fun playing the game of basketball again. That's what I want them to see.”

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Quote of the week

"I liked what I saw when we were at our best. That looked really, really good. And when we were at our worst, that's why God invented red wine.” — Geno Auriemma on how his team performed in Europe.

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