This week marks the beginning of the 2023-24 women’s college basketball season, and one of the storylines garnering the most attention has been the highly anticipated return of UConn superstar Paige Bueckers.
In the No. 2-ranked Huskies’ 102-58 victory Wednesday against Dayton, Bueckers scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists in 21 minutes of action. The 2021 Naismith College Player of the Year missed all of the 2022-23 season due to a torn left ACL sustained on Aug. 1, 2022.
Paige Bueckers back to getting buckets after 584 days!
8 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST in 21 MINSpic.twitter.com/k4kN8iVcjP
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 9, 2023
Legendary head coach Geno Auriemma has imposed a minutes limit on Bueckers, easing his star player back into game action after a grueling recovery process.
“I’m still learning how to give myself grace,” Bueckers said after the game, according to CT Insider. “I’m not ignorant enough to think that it’s going to be a linear trajectory this whole time and I’m just going to be on the up and up, and be the old Paige, and have a great game every game. This is a process, coming back from a major injury, getting my lungs, getting the rhythm and flow back.”
It’s been 19 long months since fans saw Bueckers on the court. Before Wednesday, her last game played was a national-championship-game loss to South Carolina, 64-49, when she recorded 14 points and six rebounds.
“Last year, sitting on the bench, I would have done anything to be out there,” Bueckers told CT Insider.
Being unable to get on the court with her teammates has been agonizing at times for the fiery competitor, yet she says it is God who sustained her through it. She says the Bible passage Proverbs 3:5-6 has been her refuge. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Bueckers told ESPN in the days leading up to her return, “Part of me thinks it was God calling me to use this. I feel like I’m just gonna have a great story to tell by the end of it.”
As part of the feature, ESPN also produced a video in which Bueckers told the story of her injury, the months of hard work to get back on the court, and the change in her perspective since the day she was told she had torn her ACL.
A lot has changed, Bueckers said in the video, about how she approaches proper nutrition and sleep, how she can support and lead her teammates, and how she’s grown in her gratitude for everything she has in life.
Ultimately, however, when asked how she’s changed the most during her lengthy recovery process, she pointed to the work God has done in her.
“I would say growing in my faith,” she answered. “Just being able to look at [my injury] not as an obstacle but just a wave of adversity — just something that I can get through. And God, He didn’t promise that there wouldn’t be obstacles but He did promise that He would be there every step of the way.”
The 22-year-old Minnesota native also dealt with a meniscus tear to the same knee that kept her out for much of the 2021-22 season. Gearing up for a bounce-back year and then tearing her ACL was still not enough to shake her faith in God. In the days following the devastating news, Bueckers demonstrated her confidence in God’s good plan for her life.
“It’s so so crazy because you work so hard to get back healthy, you feel stronger than ever, and you are playing your best basketball and with one sudden movement it all shifts,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “It’s hard trying to make sense of it all now but I can’t help but think that God is using me as a testimony as to how much you can overcome with Him by your side.”
Bueckers said the COVID-19 pandemic was when God truly began to take precedence in her heart. Proverbs 3:5-6 is listed first in her Instagram bio.
“I know I wouldn’t be here without Him and just the confidence and experiences and opportunities He’s given me,” she said in March 2021, near the end of her freshman season. “I’ve just tried to shine and sort of make Him famous and use my light that He’s given me to shine on Him.
“So these opportunities, you dream of them as a kid, but you can get there with strong work ethic and faith and just trust in God.”
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Auriemma claimed in October that Bueckers is better now than when she was injured. But Bueckers isn’t focused on individual accolades. She has enough of them, being the first freshman to win the Naismith, AP and Wooden player of the year awards. She wants a national title.
“She has just more of an edge now than she had back then,” Auriemma told ESPN. “She played just because it was fun. Now she plays for a purpose: to win.”
Bueckers agreed: “There’ll be no greater feeling than going through all that I’ve gone through, and winning that national championship is the only thing on my mind, on our team’s mind.”
The next step on Bueckers’ and UConn’s path back to the national championship game comes on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on the road against N.C. State (1-0). With a win, they are expected to move up to No. 1 in the country.
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