We are now just days away from seeing Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers don their UConn Huskies uniforms and step out on the court together. Geno Aureimma and his squad will begin to work out the kinks in early season action against Arkansas on Sunday, November 14 at 1pm ET. Nationwide, women’s hoops fans will have to wait for UConn’s first nationally televised game against Notre Dame on December 5 (Noon ET on FS1).
Bueckers, the number one recruit of the 2020 class, lived up to the hype and then some with an explosive freshman year at UConn. Her 20 points per game set a new freshman record for the dynastic program. She added 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game, all while maintaining an overall shooting percentage of 52.4. She swept all the national player of year awards for which she was eligible, including the Naismith Trophy, AP Player of the Year, and the Wooden Award, and was the first freshman to ever win each of those honors on the women’s side.
Even then, amidst the showers of praise heaped on Bueckers, you’d hear someone mutter, “But just wait ‘til to you see Azzi Fudd.”
Just like Bueckers, Fudd was the top recruit in the country for her own class of 2021. She started out as a point guard like Bueckers but has developed into a shooting guard with lights out ability from both inside and outside the arc. In 2019, she became the first sophomore to ever be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, which she earned by averaging 26 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game that season. After recovering from a nasty knee injury the following summer, her junior season was cut short and her senior season was cancelled completely due to Covid-19. But Fudd never pulled her foot off the gas and stayed focused by training at home, playing for her club team, and with Bueckers on USA Basketball. Before starting her freshman year in Storrs this fall, Fudd helped lead Team USA’s U19 squad to the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup over summer in Latvia.
Now, Fudd and Buecker’s basketball journeys have finally converged at UConn, stoking premature chatter about how this duo could outshine that of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
The two athletes have been close friends since first meeting at USA Basketball youth team trainings, and Bueckers had no shame in recruiting Fudd to follow her to UConn.
Fudd recalled to the Associated Press a time when Bueckers came to her house and played an assist-reel of herself showing all the amazing passes Fudd could reap the benefits of on the court with her. Granted, after the ink had dried on Fudd’s Letter of Intent, Beuckers quipped, “That deal’s over. The recruiting tactic worked. But if she’s open and I’m open, I’ll probably take the shot.”
This is where the real magic of this pairing can be found, not on the stat sheets or highlight reels, but in the genuine connection and endearing banter they have off the court.
Whereas Bueckers is outgoing, witty, and showy, Fudd is more reserved and pensive with less outward bravado.
“I was just nervous about how I would fit in,” Fudd confessed at a recent media event about arriving to UConn. “I don’t think she [Paige] gets nervous. She helps calm my nerves, but at the same time, I still don’t understand her. We’re very similar, but at the same time very different.”
The deep friendship they’ve formed is cemented at its core by their shared work ethic and commitment to the pursuit of perfection. They put in the work together in the gym and then let loose off the court, charming viewers with TikToks and friendly ribbing.
@whitechocolate535 Never been dusty 😮💨💧 #mediaday #uconn ♬ Help me hit 10k - Shane
Never been dusty 😮💨💧 #mediaday #uconn
When Bueckers capped off last year’s award season by winning the ESPY for Best College Athlete in Women’s Sports, she used the spotlight to call out racial bias in media coverage that continues to give white players, like her, more attention than black players.
👏 @paigebueckers1 pic.twitter.com/vFoSoczHn6— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) July 11, 2021
👏 @paigebueckers1 pic.twitter.com/vFoSoczHn6
“I want to shed a light on Black women. They don’t get the media coverage that they deserve,” Bueckers said. “I think it’s time for change. Sports media holds the key to storylines. Sports media and sponsors tell us who is valuable, and you have told the world that I mattered today, and everyone who voted, thank you. But I think we should use this power together to also celebrate Black women.”
Interestingly, Buecker’s challenge to the sports industry to do better now has a perfect test case. Fudd, who is Black, checks all the same boxes as Bueckers: number one recruit, same program, same market, and just one year younger. (The two even have a joint TikTok account facetiously named @WhiteChocolate535.)
And if Fudd proves to be a comparable, or even more talented, player on the court — as many expect her to be — then we’ll be able to hold our own feet to the flame on differential media treatment.
While the spark between Fudd and Bueckers is the chief attraction, the UConn squad as a whole is focused on winning another national championship. Sitting at No. 2 on the AP preseason rankings (and No. 3 in the JWS rankings) heading into play, the Huskies are returning all five starters from last year’s Final Four roster, including seniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook, and Christyn Williams. These returners will be joined by the number two recruiting class in the country, headlined by Fudd and the No. 5 overall recruit, Caroline Ducharme. Adding 6’5” Ohio State grad transfer Dorka Juáhsz to the front court was icing on the cake for Auriemma.
“She could be the difference that puts us into that other level,” he said of Juhász after seeing her in practices.
Given the deep pool of talent and the no-BS program they’ve chosen to play for, if Bueckers and Fudd put on the show we’ve all been anticipating, fans could be in for a historic display of basketball skill, individual drive, and collective brilliance. UConn is always must-watch TV, and with two generational talents sharing the floor, this year has the chance to raise the bar again.