At Just 18 Years Old, Paige Bueckers Named USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year
Paige Bueckers has had a lot of big things fly through her stratosphere.
The 18-year-old, not even halfway through her senior year at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis, has a list of accomplishments that would make many twice her age blush with pride.
Bueckers, a 5-foot-11 guard, is the top-ranked high school prospect in her class, has signed to play at women’s basketball powerhouse University of Connecticut and has won four gold medals with USA Basketball.
So how does she keep a level head?
“Definitely my parents have always helped me just realize that I always try to stay humble, because you never know what can happen,” Bueckers said. “And definitely God can have a quick way of humbling you with whatever situation you’re going through. And just realizing that I’m still in high school, and I still have a lot of my life left to live, I don’t want to just be known as somebody who had all these accomplishments and accolades in high school. I want to keep working. I always notice somebody better than me, and I always know there’s someone chasing right behind me. So just to know that there’s two sides to every story, it’s like, I just never want to give up, and I just want to keep pushing to be the best player I can be.”
She certainly was at the top of her game in 2019. With USA Basketball, Bueckers was among the youngest players on the American roster that won the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand. As the U.S. went a perfect 7-0, Bueckers averaged 11.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in winning tournament MVP honors. That performance helped earn Bueckers USA Basketball’s 2019 Female Athlete of the Year award.
“It means a lot,” Bueckers said. “When Carol (Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team director) called me and told me, I was kind of amazed, seeing all of the people who have won it before. Me being one of the youngest to get it, it just means a lot to me. To be able to represent my country, alone, and then to get this award, it meant even more.”
Jeff Walz, who coached Bueckers on the U19 team and was named USA Basketball’s Co-National Coach of the Year, said her intensity and versatility are big strengths.
“I really appreciated her competitiveness, how hard she competes,” said Walz, who coaches the women’s team at the University of Louisville. “She’s definitely a special talent. She is able to score in all three phases of the game. She hits 3s, has a pull-up jump shot and can get to the rim. But, I just appreciate how she competes. She definitely has that competitive fire within her.”
As a young player on the U19 team, Bueckers observed what players such as collegians Rhyne Howard (Kentucky) and Nazahrah Hillmon-Baker (Michigan) did in practice.
“And then I tried to just be as coachable as I could and tried to help other people understand what they wanted,” Bueckers said. “And I kind of just did everything they asked. I mean, I got yelled at a couple times, because I wasn’t doing (what the coaches wanted). But then I would adjust, and then I would try to get better from that and be coachable and take in what they’re saying and try to get better from that.”
Bueckers beefed up her skills by playing in the 2018 and 2019 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Championship and for the U.S. 3x3 entry in the 2019 World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar. She also found the competition to be a bit more physical in this summer’s World Cup, so she is looking to get stronger as she plays her final high school season and prepares for college.
That drive to be the best is part of what keeps Bueckers grounded.
“I try not to get too big-headed and look too far into the future about things, but I also have to recognize that when I do good stuff, I should be proud of myself,” Bueckers said. “And so just finding that balance and just being able to sit back and realize what I’ve done representing this country and the relationships built through USA Basketball, and taking this award, it just means everything to me, because as a little kid, it’s what I dreamed of doing.”