“She’s pretty sure of herself, yet she realizes she wants to be the best possible player she can be and has a lot of work in front of her," Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said. "You’re not going to see her walking around, thumping her chest."
Star Tribune photo by Anthony Souffle
The hype machine has been humming just about five years now. National outlets, local media, bloggers and recruiting wonks. Big name college coaches coming to watch her play.
While everyone else is trying to fast-forward her career, projecting how good she’ll be or where she’ll rank among the best players in Minnesota history or what college she’ll attend, Paige Bueckers is slowing down.
What’s the rush? There’s no hurry. Still just a sophomore, Hopkins’ wunderkind guard knows she still has a long way to go and a lot yet to learn. She’s going to do it her way.
The reason is simple.
“I’m not where I want to be,” Bueckers said. “If I stay as good as I am now, I’m not going to be good in the future. I have to keep working.”
A once-in-a-generation talent, what Bueckers could become is the subject of much speculation. What she is now is the 2018 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, the first sophomore to be chosen in the 34 years of the honor.
Her numbers this season speak for themselves: 22.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game. She took over as point guard in Hopkins’ up-tempo offense and sparked the Royals to nearly 80 points per game, by far the best offensive output of any team in the Class 4A bracket of the upcoming state tournament.
As good as her overall season was, however, the most important stretch may have been a five-game span from late January through early February when she was on the bench with an ankle injury. Always a student of the game, she used that downtime to improve her mental game.
“It opened my eyes to all the little things that do and don’t happen on the court,” she said. “Something as small as one little cut can lose a game. I saw everything new, like how the coaches see things.”
It’s all part of the process of becoming the player she someday wants to be. Every opportunity to improve is welcomed; shortcuts are never considered.
“It’s a gradual learning process,” said her father Bob, who has guided her development since she was drawing raves in fifth-grade traveling basketball. “We’ve talked to her about a lot of things, like body language when you miss a shot and things of that nature. It’s about growing up as a person and as a basketball player.”
Bueckers is keenly aware the potential she holds. Reaching it is the motivational carrot that tantalizes, driving her to do everything possible to improve. That includes keeping things in perspective.
“I’m kind of hard on myself,” she said. “When a lot of people are patting me on the back, I look at what I could have done better. I don’t have a big head and I don’t get amped up on what everybody says.”
Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff took notice of Bueckers long before she joined the varsity in eighth grade. He’s not surprised by her humility.
“She’s used to the attention. She’s been getting it since she was little,” Cosgriff said. “She’s quietly confident. She’s pretty sure of herself, yet she realizes she wants to be the best possible player she can be and has a lot of work in front of her. You’re not going to see her walking around, thumping her chest.”
Bueckers has tasted just enough success to know how much more there can be. She won a gold medal while playing with Team USA U16 team in the FIBA World Championship in Argentina last summer. For now, however, her sole focus is on helping Hopkins win a state title. The Royals have lost in the Class 4A championship game in each of the last two seasons.
“If I want more gold medals and to play with the national team, first I want to win a state championship,” she said. “I haven’t done that yet and obviously that’s the focus. I want to stay in the present.”
Paige Bueckers passes the ball to a teammate during Hopkins' 71-40 victory over Edina on Dec. 14. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
2017 Gabi Haack, Elk River
2016 Taylor Koenen, Shakopee
2015 Madison Guebert, Eastview
2014 Chase Coley, Minneapolis Washburn
2013 Nia Coffey, Hopkins
2012 Marissa Janning, Watertown-Mayer
2011 Rachel Banham, Lakeville North
2010 Cassie Rochel, Lakeville North
Banahm, Lakeville North
2009 Tayler Hill, Minneapolis South
2008 Hill, Minneapolis South
2007 Angel Robinson, St. Paul Central
2006 Jenna Smith, Bloomington Kennedy
2005 Ashley Ellis-Milan, St. Paul Central
2004 Leslie Knight, Hopkins
2003 Liz Podominick, Lakeville
Jamie Broback, Eastview
2002 Podominick, Lakeville
2001 April Calhoun, Armstrong
1999 Mauri Horton, Minneapolis North
1998 Tamara Moore, Minneapolis North
1997 Carolyn Moos, Blake
1996 Moos, Blake
1995 Sally Albers, Apple Valley
Linda Shudlick, Apple Valley
1994 Kay Schmidt, Bloomington Kennedy
1993 Tracy Henderson, Minneapolis Henry
1992 Cheri Stafford, Blaine
1991 Shannon Loeblein, St. Paul Harding
1990 Loeblein, St. Paul Harding
1989 Stacy Carver, Buffalo
1988 Margaret Nowlin, Cretin-Derham Hall
1987 Mya Whitmore, Hill-Murray
1986 Jennifer Hall, Burnsville
1985 Janet Cobbs, Concordia Academy