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Paige Bueckers reps Gigi Bryant ahead of UConn’s season opener

Paige Bueckers will make her return to the UConn lineup in the season opener against Dayton on Nov. 8. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Ahead of Paige Bueckers’ official return from her ACL injury, the UConn basketball star gave credit to late NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi.

On Tuesday, Bueckers wore a shirt reading: “If you think you can’t, UConn.” The quote is attributed to noted UConn fan Gigi Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash alongside her father and seven others in January 2020.

The Huskies first wore the warmup shirts with the quote, which comes from a letter Bryant wrote to the team after a loss, back in January 2021.

Ahead of UConn’s season opener Wednesday against Dayton, Bueckers shared how Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” helped her as she rehabbed the ACL injury that kept her out all of last season. Speaking with ESPN, she said that she read Bryant’s book, which helped her as she navigated the injury and rehabilitation process.

Kobe’s “mentality, his approach, just how much he dedicated his life to the game” helped her through that time, Bueckers said.

“When this injury first happened, I thought a lot about Kobe,” she said. “I read ‘The Mamba Mentality’ book. And he just looked at his injury as another way to prove people wrong and as another thing to accomplish. I mean, Kobe loved challenges, so anything that he could face, that people had doubts that he could overcome, is what made him want to do it even more.”

The 22-year-old guard also turned to her UConn teammates, and to other athlete’s successful returns from ACL injuries, to inspire her.

“A lot of my teammates have gone through ACL injuries, have gone through major injuries,” she said. “I watched, in the WNBA, in the NBA, in the NFL, people coming back from ACL injuries. Klay Thompson came back from two major injuries to win a NBA championship.

“I see inspiration around me every day with my teammates and just be able to lean on them and ask some questions and ask how their process went. There was a lot of things that kept me going.”