After 584 days, Harry A. Gampel Pavilion gave Paige Bueckers a warm welcome back as UConn tipped off the 2023-24 season against Dayton on Wednesday night. The college basketball star went through the tough journey of recovering from an ACL injury, but she is ready to reintroduce herself.
“Excitement. Overwhelming excitement just to be back on the court playing with my girls,” Bueckers said on the postgame radio show after the Huskies cruised to a 102-58 victory.
Her first points in an official game since 2022 came from a driving layup less than two minutes into the game. She hit the floor but got right back up. Understandably, Bueckers was a bit rusty, but she still finished the night with eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal.
Coach Geno Auriemma said at halftime that Bueckers started the game, forcing some things because she was a little too anxious. However, he thinks she is doing a great job slowly working herself back in.
After the game, Bueckers also said she understands patience will be important.
“Obviously, I’m not ignorant enough to think it’s going to be a linear trajectory in the way that I’m going to come back” Bueckers said on the postgame radio show. “I’m not going to come back and be the same Paige that I was before. It’s going to be a process. There are going to be highs and lows, but just to be back on the court is something I am extremely grateful for.”
Bueckers had a phenomenal freshman season, winning 11 major honors during the 2020-21 campaign — including the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, and AP Player of the Year. However, she ended up missing 19 games during her sophomore year after having to undergo surgery for an anterior tibial plateau fracture and a lateral meniscus tear on her left leg.
When she returned her sophomore season, Bueckers was not 100 percent her old self, but she still helped the Huskies reach the national title game. However, looking back at it, Bueckers admitted that maybe she returned too soon. This time, she decided to spend more time understanding the science behind injuries, getting stronger with pilates, and having faith that everything will work out in her favor.
“Part of me thinks it was God calling me to use this,” Bueckers said in a recent ESPN interview. “I feel like I’m just gonna have a great story to tell by the end of it.”
Even before the season’s first game, Auriemma had already said he feels confident Bueckers will be turning heads again this year.
“Paige is a better basketball player now than she was when she was national player of the year,” Auriemma said late October.