Was there one moment this season when Hopkins High girls basketball coach Brian Cosgriff realized the magnitude of his star guard, 6-foot senior Paige Bueckers?
“She took off when she made the cover of Slam Magazine,” Cosgriff said last week. “Ever since then we began playing in front of packed houses, and Paige went on to become a McDonalds All-American and National Gatorade Player of the Year. She is one of a kind.”
The stands were not only packed at Hopkins Lindbergh Center, which holds 3,000 fans for basketball, but also on the road. What happened after the games was perhaps more enlightening. Young girls lined up outside the Hopkins locker room, hoping to get an autograph from Bueckers or have their photo taken with her.
Bueckers was accommodating, smiling for the cameras and signing for every fan in the line.
“I was a kid once, and I know how I looked up to older girls,” Bueckers said.
As for signing the autographs, she said, “I’ll do it every time.”
To the delight of her young fans, Bueckers never hurried to leave the gym.
“The first time I saw all the kids waiting for autographs, it blew me out of the water,”Cosgriff said. “I had never seen anything like it, and we have had a lot of good players in the Hopkins program, including Nia Coffey, who won three state championships, set the all-time scoring and rebounding records at Northwestern and was a first-round draft choice in the WNBA.”
Before Coffey arrived, Cosgriff coached 2,000-point scorer Leslie Knight.
“Paige is the most intuitive basketball player I have seen,” Cosgriff said. “The closest I saw was probably when Lindsay Whalen played for the Gophers. And Paige is a team-first player.”
Cosgriff added that one of Bueckers’ goals is “to raise the level of her teammates.” Yet there are times when she realizes she has to take over.
“The Wayzata game in the section finals was an example,” Cosgriff said. “The way Paige played, it was like she was saying, ‘Get on my back, we’re moving on.’”
Hopkins broke a close game open late in the second half to beat Wayzata 86-76. Bueckers scored 31 points.
Bueckers talked about the friendship among Hopkins’ players after a state tournament win over Cambridge-Isanti: “We’re a family. Everybody, 1-18, is a sister and we play for each other.”
The next level for Bueckers takes her to Mansfield, Conn., where she will play for legendary University of Connecticut head coach Gene Auriemma.
Auriemma’s coaching record is 1,085-142 in 35 seasons. He has won 11 NCAA championships and had six perfect seasons.
It is easy to see why that kind of success appealed to Bueckers when she announced her college choice.