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Paige Bueckers stepping out of her comfort zone to become a leader

The redshirt junior usually lets her play do the talking, but Geno has pushed her to be more vocal.

Photo: Ian Bethune

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Last week’s Weekly


  • Ashlynn Shade was named Big East Freshman of the Week for the third week in a row.

  • UConn moved up to No. 8 in the AP Poll.

Paige Bueckers stepping out of her comfort zone to become a leader for UConn

When Paige Bueckers is on the court, there’s not much she can’t do. She scores a lot of points from all over the floor and does so efficiently. She’s become a standout defender and improved her rebounding. Few players in the nation — if any — have as well-rounded of a skillset as her.

While that makes Bueckers a great basketball player, it’s been an obstacle in her journey to become a leader for UConn this season.

“Her expectation level is, ‘How do you not know this?’ And I told her, ‘Just the fact that you know it and they don't, and you getting pissy because they don't know what you know, that doesn't make you a good leader by acting like that,’” Geno Auriemma said.

This is a new role for Bueckers, though. While she dominated on the court as a freshman, Evina Westbrook was the Huskies’ off-the-court leader, while Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa were veterans as well. The same went for Bueckers’ sophomore season.

Now, Bueckers is the veteran. While Nika Mühl and Aaliyah Edwards have also been around — and Mühl has certainly proven she can be quite vocal — Bueckers’ transition has been far more abrupt because she missed all of last year with a torn ACL. There’s also naturally more responsibility on her shoulders.

“This is the first time really where she's been (in a position) other than looking up to other seniors,” Auriemma said. “‘Anybody can be a leader on your team.’ No, they can't. It's the people that have the ball in their hands all the time.”

Bueckers has to step outside her comfort zone to handle this responsibility. She “defers” as Auriemma put it, and would rather let her play do the talking if she had a choice. Being vocal isn’t something that comes naturally to her.

“I think she also understands her role as a vocal leader, which she has never been before,” the coach explained. “Don't get me wrong, she's not exactly the answer yet in that vein… she's never thought that being a vocal leader was important. ‘I just go out there and do my thing, and I'll play and everybody will follow my example and we'll win.’

“That's not what we need from her right now.”

With that mandate, Bueckers came up with a solution that works well for her: “Never shutting up.”

“Coach wants me talking at all times, 24/7,” she said. “So it's more just using my voice even more frequently than I do.”

Part of that is because UConn’s backcourt is about as young as it gets. While Bueckers and Mühl lead the line, everyone else who gets significant minutes is a freshman: KK Arnold, Ashlynn Shade, and Qadence Samuels. The Huskies need those three to produce if they want to go far in March, so Auriemma has put the onus on Bueckers to help them along the way.

“They listen to her explicitly,” Auriemma said. “Being a good leader is helping these three guys right here get better. And that's your obligation.”

Bueckers wants to do all she can for the youngsters — it’s just been a process to figure out how to best do so.

“Those guys need a voice to count on and a voice to rely on, especially as upperclassmen,” she said. “We’ve been through it all. We've seen it all. For us to use our voice and make sure that any questions they that they have, anything that they need advice on, we're here for them and they can count on us.”

The results speak for themselves. The Huskies’ trio of first-years have won the Big East Freshman of the Week all but once this season. Shade has claimed it five times (including three weeks in a row), Arnold brought it home four times and Samuels got it once. Even if Bueckers is still learning how to be the best leader possible, she’s certainly done her part with the freshmen.

“She's been a great, great leader. She's a horrible listener. She don't listen to a goddamn thing I say,” Auriemma quipped. “But she's been a great leader for them.”

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