The first time Azzi Fudd saw Paige Bueckers, she didn’t think much of her future best friend and teammate. It was back in 2017 when Fudd was trying out for a USA Basketball team along with Bueckers, who she described as “this skinny little white girl.”
“I watched her play and I was like, ‘Oh, I have nothing to worry about this girl,’” Fudd remembered thinking. “Like, ‘I have a better chance of making it than her.’”
It didn’t take long for Fudd to realize just how wrong she was. Both players made the squad and during one of their first practices together, Bueckers scored on five or six possessions in a row, according to Fudd. Different players switched to defend her each time and still, nobody could stop her.
“We both made the team, I realized that she’s actually one of the best players I’ve ever seen play,” Fudd said. “She’s deceiving...I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I was wrong about her.’”
After a somewhat rocky start, a friendship between the two quickly blossomed. Not only did they play together with USA Basketball, Bueckers started to visit Fudd in Washington D.C. so the two could workout together.
Bueckers committed to UConn in April of 2019 and quickly set out to make sure Fudd, one year younger, joined her. Bueckers kicked off the campaign publicly in Dec. 2019 with a tweet that said #GetAzziToUConn and began recruiting her with a two-pronged approach: One focused on basketball, the other on friendship.
Specifically, Fudd remembers when Bueckers cut up her own passing highlights to show how many open shots Fudd would get if she came to UConn.
“She actually made this one video on Hudl of her high school highlights of her passing to people and she showed it to my family,” Fudd relayed. “Like she sat down, airdropped it to the TV and said, ‘This is what I’ll be doing to Azzi. All the passes will come to her if she comes to UConn next year, she’ll get all these open shots.’ I’m just shaking my head, my parents are laughing. But it was a Paige moment.”
Bueckers’ hard work paid off when Fudd committed to UConn on Nov. 11, 2020 — her 18th birthday and the start of the early signing period. With the two on campus together at long last, Bueckers can finally enjoy the pay-off from all her efforts on the recruiting trail.
“I worked really hard. It was a long process, she committed late,” Bueckers said. “So for her to finally be here and for that process of recruiting her to be over and just enjoying going to school together and playing together, it’s fun. It was worth it.”
Now that Fudd is locked in at UConn, Bueckers joked that the passing video was all a ploy.
“No, now I’m not going to pass it to her now that I got her. That deal’s over, it worked. The recruiting tactic worked,” Bueckers said. “But yeah, if I’m open and she’s open, I’ll probably take it myself.”
They still have to wait to play together on the court, though. Bueckers hasn’t participated in team workouts this summer after undergoing right ankle surgery in April while Fudd has been dealing with an injury as well, according to Christyn Williams.
Once both of them are fully healthy and can get to work together, Fudd expects things to click on the court right away.
“The two years we played USA Basketball together, I always thought that we had the best chemistry,” she said. “For having not played with each other ever, we always played so well off each other.”
So what exactly makes them such a great fit?
“I think we complement each other in different ways just because we both have such high basketball IQs, especially Paige,” Fudd said. “You can’t label us like she’s a point guard, I’m a point guard, she’s a two, I’m the two. We kind of just do whatever is necessary for each other and the team.”
Until then, they’ve been rebounding for each other — at least, Fudd says Bueckers will only rebound for her if she doesn’t miss too many shots — while Bueckers has been helping Fudd adjust to life at UConn, telling her what to expect at practice or how to go about a certain drill the right way.
“I’m upset that she can’t play but I’m enjoying having her because in practices or any time, like individuals, she’ll see me doing something and she’ll give me pointers or tips to make it better,” Fudd said. “I’m lucky to have someone like her that can help correct me and I know she’s on my side.”
Bueckers stepped in to clarify, though.
“I mean, don’t let her fool you. She doesn’t like to listen a lot of times,” Bueckers teased. “What I say is I’ve tried to help her as much as I can.”
They’ve played HORSE once — which Fudd won — though Bueckers quickly responded that she’ll win in one-on-one once she’s back to full health. It’s all part of their unique friendship: The two are incredibly competitive with each other, so much so that they’ll often get mad at the other — though that doesn’t last all that long. Ultimately, they believe those battles will pay off in the long run.
“I think we both hate losing but I think we both hate losing to each other more than anything. So we both want to win, we both want to make each other better,” Bueckers said. “I think that works on and off the court as well. I think we’re just here to make each other better and give each other opportunities and it’ll be fun to go at it in practice but once we get on the same court together and go against other teams, I think that’ll be good.”