Injured UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers to bypass early WNBA draft entry, return to Huskies for 2023-24 season

STORRS, Conn. — UConn star Paige Bueckers, the 2020-21 women’s college basketball player of the year, said Thursday that while she will be age eligible to draft for the 2023 WNBA draft, she will go to the Huskies will return for the 2023-24 season, although he will miss the upcoming season with an ACL injury.

“I’m not going. That’s out of the question,” Bückers told reporters on Thursday at her first media appearance since her injury in August. “People have been asking me, ‘What are your thoughts on year five, the COVID year, the redshirting this year?’ I’m not thinking too far into the future at all. But I’m going to play college basketball again.”

Bueckers, a junior who took the college basketball scene by storm in her first season at UConn, will have three more years of eligibility after the 2022-23 campaign.

Not only has the Minnesota native received just about every national award imaginable (including the Nancy Lieberman Award, Naismith Player of the Year, and Wooden Award), but he’s also become one of the most prominent faces in the sport when the NCAA rules regulations loosened up on name and image and possibilities of likeness, something that she can continue to use.

Bueckers’ cruciate ligament tear was a devastating blow for the point guard after missing 19 games in November and February of last season with a fractured tibia and a lateral torn meniscus in his left knee. She returned in time for the NCAA tournament, where she helped lead the two-man UConn to their first national title fight since 2016, which the Huskies lost to No. 1 overall, South Carolina.

Bückers said she felt “really good” physically before her cruciate ligament tear and was excited for the start of the season. Then came the fateful pickup game at Storrs on August 1st.

“I was going full speed and trying to sort of stop and there was some contact, not a lot of contact but it just gave up,” Bückers said. “I knew it was bad. I felt a pop. And then I went into the training room and I was extremely frustrated. I didn’t know how serious it was, but I knew something was wrong.”

An MRI later confirmed the cruciate ligament tear and she underwent surgery later that week to repair it. Although it happened in the same knee as last year’s injuries, Buckers said the incidents were “unrelated”.

The point guard said rehab is going well and she’s been able to walk a lot more lately. She has been riding a bike, has been cleared for chair training and will soon be able to work in the pool.

“Last year I got injured but there was always an assurance that I could come back and that I could be back in the same season,” Bückers said. “It really gets me into never taking things for granted again, living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead because you never know what might happen. So just live each day to the best of your ability, thank god I wake up every morning.”

Buckers ended any hope of a quick comeback in time to appear in the 2022-23 season.

“I really just want to be 110% healthy before I ever play basketball again,” Buckers said. “Only because I never want to take a break like that again in my career.”

She also hopes to act as player-coach during the season to support her teammates – if she doesn’t replace coach Geno Auriemma first.

“No, yes, I’m the head coach,” Bückers joked. “Coach [Auriemma] let me take his place.”

The Huskies will be looking for a new identity after also sending three players to the WNBA. Assisting in taking over the mantle will be a mix of upper-class returnees, promising undergrads (led by former No. 1 overall Azzi Fudd) and a slew of newcomers, including three freshmen and a graduate transfer.

“Last year we were the underdogs and made it to the national championship game, so I think we play better and do better with a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove,” said Buckers. “And I know a lot of people are already counting us. So I’m excited. This team knows our potential. I know our potential, Coach knows our potential and we have really big things ahead of us. … I look forward to them showing the world what we can do.” Injured UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers to bypass early WNBA draft entry, return to Huskies for 2023-24 season

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