Paige Bueckers woke up expecting it to be a run-of-the-mill Monday. She had an event at her high school in the morning, but that isn’t unusual for the social media sensation. There, her day took a twist.
As she stood in front of cameras with her teammates behind her, a loud roar rose up and Bueckers spun around to find Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns standing behind her with the Gatorade National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year Trophy.
“We were just going to take some photos, do some video stuff and then all of the sudden Karl Anthony Towns is walking up behind me and I see him first and then I see the Gatorade trophy and it all came together. It came together but it’s still kind of mindblowing, it hasn’t all sunk in yet,” Bueckers told The UConn Blog on the phone Monday morning.
Despite being rated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2020, a UConn commit and one of the most well-known high school basketball players in the country, Bueckers said she genuinely wasn’t expecting to win the award.
“It has left me speechless. I’ve been speechless for an hour now. It wasn’t what I was expecting when I woke up this morning,” she said. “It’s surreal and it’s something I couldn’t even dream of as a kid because I couldn’t expect to be in this position so for me to win it is a really big blessing.”
Bueckers is the 10th UConn player to win the award, joining future teammates Christyn Williams (2018) and Megan Walker (2017) along with Katie Lou Samuelson (2016), Breanna Stewart (2012), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (2011), Maya Moore (2007), Tina Charles (2006), Ann Strother (2002) and Tamika Williams (1998).
The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native was also stunned by the fact that Towns came to present the trophy. While Towns and teammate D’Angelo Russell watched Bueckers play last week, they left before the game ended so she didn’t get a chance to meet either. But Towns, the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year and two-time All Star, had high praise for Bueckers, so much so that she needed to reel him in herself.
“For him to just look at my game and say that he sees amazing stuff and he told me I was going to change the game, I was kind of like ‘Slow your roll, I’m not there yet,’” she laughed. “But for him to say that is kind of crazy just to know someone of that stature knows my game that way and thinks so positively about me.”
Considering all the attention, accolades and praise that gets heaped on Bueckers, it’d be easy for her ego to balloon. However, she makes sure to keep herself grounded and not get too far ahead of herself.
“I can’t even tell you how many times the media has reached out to me and I think when you go to UConn, you have a lot of pressure on you to act professional and be on your best behavior at all times and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that in high school,” she said.
It helps that despite all the frenzy, when Bueckers gets home at the end of the day and goes into her room, she can exist as just a normal high school senior for a few hours.
“It’s kind of funny because I’ll do an interview or do like a ‘day in the life’ video shoot then I’ll go home and eat Chick-Fil-A, watch Netflix just like a normal 18 year old kid would do,” she said. “I try not to let the attention change me or let it get to my head. I just stay true to myself. That’s being a kid for right now. I’m just trying to enjoy high school and not let any of this get to my head.”
Big day for Bueckers
The Gatorade award wasn’t the only award Bueckers earned on Monday. The Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association named her the High School Player of the Year along with a spot on the All-American team.
Fellow 2020 signee Mir McLean was also named an honorable mention All-American by the WBCA.
Dangerfield named Lieberman finalist
The accolades continued to flow for UConn players, both future and current, on Monday. Point guard Crystal Dangerfield was named a Nancy Lieberman Award finalist, given to the nation’s top point guard.