Paige Bueckers is feeling good as she heads into the new season with UConn basketball.
The 2021 National Player of the Year is looking to stay healthy for the first time since her freshman season. After her award-winning debut, she missed much of her sophomore year with a lateral meniscus tear and a tibial plateau fracture, then missed all of last season with an ACL tear.
But as she makes her comeback from injury, she says she is feeling better than ever as she enters her senior year.
“I’m feeling much stronger. I feel more confident in my body than I ever have,” Bueckers said Tuesday. “When I step on the court, I feel like I’m ready for whatever defense is going to throw at me and I know people this year are going to test me, push me around, make sure I’m really healthy, make sure my knee’s really good and use physicality as a weapon against me, so I’m ready for that.”
Bueckers may need to reacclimate herself to the rigors of the season, but she is up for the challenge.
“She has her expectations perfectly aligned that this is going to take some time,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s not going to step out there and be Paige, National Player of the Year freshman year. That’s going to take a little bit of time.”
There’s also a little ways to go mentally, as she readily admitted. While she has been fully cleared to play from a physical standpoint, a fear of injury does remain in the back of her mind.
“I would say obviously physically, you get cleared,” Bueckers said. “Mentally there’s still that block of being able to be confident in your body and your knee and there’s always a fear of injury, but not letting that take over you on the court, and just going out there and being sort of in a free state of mind when you’re playing basketball.”
She has at least one more year with the Huskies ahead of her. While she doesn’t know if she’ll stay at UConn beyond 2024, the redshirt junior will have two years of eligibility remaining after the upcoming season. But for now, she is focused on the season immediately ahead.