UConn’s Paige Bueckers grew up watching basketball in her home state of Minnesota. She has memories of Lynx and Golden Gophers games at Williams Arena — she attended those games starting when she was 10 or 12 years old.
Now, Bueckers will return to The Barn, but not as a spectator.
“It’s super surreal because I grew up going to games at The Barn and watching the Gophers and watching the Lynx play there,” Bueckers said to the Hartford Courant. “So to be playing there, where I grew up, my childhood, at my dream school wearing a UConn jersey in that arena, it’s like a surreal feeling for me.”
The Huskies are set to take on the Gophers in Minnesota at 5 p.m. ET Sunday in a homecoming game for Bueckers. Bueckers will be taking the same court her childhood idols took over a decade ago.
“I envisioned it when I was younger,” Bueckers said. “Just wanting to be the people who were playing on the court. As a young kid, that was where I wanted to be. You never knew what the future was going to hold, but it was something I aspired to do.”
UConn’s head coach Geno Auriemma goes out of his way to schedule homecoming games for his seniors, including two international matchups this season — one for Nika Mühl in Croatia during the Huskies’ preseason tour and one for Aaliyah Edwards in Toronto, which will be played in December.
Williams Arena is likely to be packed when the local star makes her return — more than 10,000 seats are expected to be filled when Bueckers takes the court at the 14,625-seat arena.
Among those 10,000 people will be Bueckers’ family, friends and other Minnesotans in the basketball community. And Bueckers credits these people with her upbringing.
“You often hear the phrase ‘Minnesota nice,’” Bueckers told CT Insider. “I think everything around here, just everybody knows everybody. Everybody’s nice to each other. Everybody’s like family once you meet them. So, I think that just is sort of why I love relationships, why I love people so much and why I love getting to know people so much and I think that has a lot to do with where I’m from.”
But for Bueckers, a homecoming game isn’t just about seeing family and friends. It’s about being who Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsey Whalen were to her for other young girls.
“I want to be an inspiration to kids,” Bueckers said. “I want people to see that injuries happen, adversity happens, but what do you do to come back from it? How hard do you attack that process? I want people to see passion when they see me play, fire and energy and that I love the game.”