Paige Bueckers of the state-champion Hopkins High girls basketball team announced her college choice last week.
The 6-foot junior guard, who led the Royals to the 2019 state Class 4A title with a 32-0 record, will continue her career at the University of Connecticut starting in the fall of 2020.
With one more year of high school ball remaining, Bueckers is on course to become the all-time leading scorer in Hopkins history, but it is her all-around game that made her recruitment a top priority for UConn’s legendary head coach Geno Auriemma.
“Paige is a great player and a great team player,” Hopkins head coach Brian Cosgriff said in a postgame interview earlier this season. “She has talked about going to UConn since she was in eighth grade. Coach Auriemma did an amazing job of recruiting her. He is very food at forming relationships with players and with coaches, and therein lies one of the factors that helped Paige make her decision.”
Tweeting after she made her decision, Bueckers wrote, “As a young kid, I always dreamed of playing basketball at the Division I level, under coach Auriemma at the University of Connecticut.
There was speculation locally that University of Minnesota might have been on Bueckers’ radar after former Gopher star Lindsay Whalen became the head coach last year. But Auriemma’s recruitment plan was well in place before Whalen became the Gopher coach.
“Geno was here more than any other coach or assistant coach,” Cosgriff said. “If you want to recruit a top player, you have to do a great job. It was not for lack of trying that Lindsay couldn’t get Paige.”
Cosgriff said he didn’t think the Gopher coaching staff, prior to Whalen’s hiring, did much to interest Bueckers in choosing the U.
“If Lindsay had been hired earlier, the Gophers might have had a better chance,” Cosgriff noted.
Another factor in Bueckers’ decision to choose UConn was the Huskies’ ongoing success in the NCAA Tournament. They have played in the Final Four 12 straight years and 20 times overall. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a program like that?
Bueckers assessment: “Minnesota did a great job of making a late push. Lindsay is an icon of Minnesota basketball and will do great things for the program.”
At any rate, UConn is getting an amazing basketball player, who knows how to win. Since Bueckers joined the Hopkins varsity as an eighth-grader, the Royals are 120-8 overall with a state championship and three state runner-up finishes. She has been All-Lake Conference and All-State each of the last three years and averaged 24.6 points per game this season. She scored a career-high 43 points this year during Hopkins’ 69-66 Lake Conference win over second-ranked Wayzata.
Going into her senior season, Bueckers is Hopkins second leading all-time scorer with 2,288 points. Leslie Knight, a three-time All-State player, finished her Hopkins career with 2,335 points. With normal production, Bueckers will surpass that scoring mark two or three games into next season.
At that point, for most players, the quest for 3,000 would begin. But Paige Bueckers is not most players.
In an interview earlier this season, she said, “My main goal is to help the team win. It doesn’t matter if we win by one point or 40, as long as we win.”
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(SUN STAFF PHOTO BY john sherman)
Paige Bueckers of the Hopkins High girls basketball team sets up a cross-over dribble against a Centennial defender in the state semifinals at Williams Arena.
(sun staff photo by john sherman)
Celebrating a state championship with her Hopkins teammates was the goal all along for Hopkins High basketball star Paige Bueckers (center). With her from left to right are Amaya Battle, Taylor Woodson, Kayhla Adams and Maya Nnaji.