UConn guard Paige Bueckers announced Thursday she will bypass early entry to the WNBA Draft and return to play for the Huskies in the 2023-24 season.
The 20-year-old junior spoke to the media for the first time after tearing her ACL in August. The injury will keep her out of the 2022-23 season, and while she is eligible to make the jump to the pros, the 2020-21 women’s college basketball national player of the year sounded determined to not leave her college career on a low note.
“I’m not leaving. That is not in question,” Bueckers told reporters Thursday, as transcribed by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou. “People asked me, ‘What are you thinking about fifth year, COVID year, redshirting this year.’ I’m not thinking too far ahead about that at all. But I will be playing college basketball again.”
Bueckers’ ACL injury comes after the point guard missed 19 games from November to February last season with a tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in her left knee. She returned in time for the NCAA tournament, where she helped guide No. 2 seed UConn to its first national title game appearance since 2016. The Huskies lost to No. 1 overall seed South Carolina.
“I was going full speed, and I sort of tried to come to a stop and there was some contact, not a lot of contact, but it just kind of gave out,” Bueckers told reporters on her current rehab. “I knew it was bad. I felt a pop. And then I went to the training room, and I was extremely frustrated. I didn’t know how serious it was, but I knew something was wrong.”
The ACL tear was in the same left knee, but the incidents are said to be unrelated. UConn will see a change in the rotation with three players from last season off to the WNBA and Azzi Fudd likely to see an expanded role. Despite making a comeback last season to help UConn through the NCAA tournament, Bueckers tempered expectations for this upcoming season.
“I really just want to be 110% healthy before I ever play basketball again,” Bueckers said. “Just because I never want to take a break like this again, ever in my career.”
During the season, Bueckers will play a role on the sidelines and even joked she would take Geno Auriemma’s positon.
“Nah yeah I’m head coach,” Bueckers said. “Coach (Auriemma) let me take his spot.”
Bueckers excited the basketball world with her impressive freshman season, and fans will have to wait a year until the guard sees competitive play again.