In 34 years of high school coaching Hopkins’ Brian Cosgriff has never seen anyone like Paige Bueckers.
The 6-foot junior guard isn’t just a great player, she also brings a special type of charisma to the game.
“Paige is special,” Cosgriff said after Hopkins routed Eden Prairie 91-61 with Bueckers scoring 27 points Jan. 15. “You can’t really coach the things she does on the court. She sees the floor so well, and she’s a natural. In addition to leading our team in scoring and assists, Paige is our best defensive player.”
Cosgriff has coached other All-State players - Nia Coffey, Leslie Knight, T.T, Starks and Nia Hollie among them - but once Bueckers graduates in the spring of 2020, she will most likely own every significant record in the Hopkins program.
Bueckers is averaging 27 points per game this season, and doing it in an unselfish manner.
“Paige would just as soon get as assist as score a basket,” Cosgriff said.
There are times, of course, when the star guard has to take over. For instance, last year’s state-championship game, when she scored 37 points in a 63-57 loss to Eastview.
Bueckers has taken all of the accolades in stride, including the All-State award she won as a sophomore. And her team-first approach shines through.
The win over Eden Prairie was Hopkins’ 14th straight even though the Royals have only one senior, 5-7 guard Dlayla Chakolis, in the starting lineup.
“I like that the young girls on our team are coachable,” said Bueckers, who knows from experience what it’s like to be a young varsity player.
Girls in the starting lineup with Bueckers and Chakolis are 5-7 junior guard Kayhla Adams, 5-10 ninth-grade guard Amaya Battle and 6-3 ninth-grade forward Maya Nnaji. The first player off the bench is 6-foot eighth-grade forward Taylor Woodson, who ran in the State Class AA Track Meet as a seventh-grader last spring.
Bueckers was eager to play against Eden Prairie last week and took it upon herself to guard EP’s leading scorer, 6-foot junior forward Nneka Obiazor.
“I like playing against the best,” Bueckers said. “Eden Prairie is a team with some very good post players, and we wanted to keep them from going high-low.”
Early in the game, Eden Prairie was able to hang with Hopkins, but then Bueckers took over. She made a Eurostep layup to give the Royals their first 10-point lead, 27-17. Not long after that, Alayna Contreras and Woodson hit back-to-back three-pointers for a 39-21 lead. Bueckers’ floater in the lane made it a 20-point lead at 41-21. The first half concluded with Hopkins holding a 52-27 lead.
In the second half the Royals’ margin ballooned to 66-30 before Cosgriff called his starters to the bench. But Eden Prairie wasn’t done though. The Eagles put on a spurt and cut the lead to 77-50 before the Royal coach put several starters back on the floor.
Bueckers is shooting well above 50 percent from the field for the season.
Asked how she does that, she said, “A bunch of hours in the gym.”
Bueckers’ burning desire to be the best is no secret to either opponents or teammates. Many fans have commented about the big improvement she has made in her mid-range game since last season. The Eurosteps and floaters are other reliable weapons, and now she’s strong enough to finish every time she has an opportunity for an and-one.
“You’re never going to be perfect,” Bueckers said. “What I try to focus on is consistency.”
Bueckers is being recruited by all of the schools in the NCAA’s big conferences, from the Big East to the Big Twelve to the Big Ten. She has not yet announced a college decision.
“For now, I just want to enjoy the [recruiting] process,” she said.
What does Bueckers like most about playing high school basketball?
“Playing with these teammates and our coaches,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.”
Follow the Sun sports writers on Twitter at MNSunSports and on facebook at facebook.com/SunSportsStaff.