UConn coach Geno Auriemma talks about Paige Bueckers’ injury.

Stores – when UConn women’s basketball Fitness Trainer Geno Orima He has a team like the team he put together, led by a player like Big BakersHe can let most midsummer basketball ideas skip right past last winter and into spring.

Orima and his crew were on fine-tuning last month, and began looking into the little details that might make or break national championship aspirations, when it came. The Bakers ruptured the ACL and will miss the 2022-23 season.

“There has been a huge mental shift,” Orima said Thursday, in a meeting with the media for the first time since the Bakers injury was announced on August 3. Then in one phone call, one day, your conversation turns to “How are we going to make up for, arguably, losing one of the best players to play here for a very long time.”

The Bakers, who suffered a major sophomore season upset after winning their All-National Senior Player of the Year as a freshman, was injured while driving to the basket during a small game at the Werth Champions Center. She underwent surgery on August 5 and will return to the Huskies family as a debutante in a red shirt in 2023-24.

This was a hit on two levels.

First, the Bakers may be America’s best player and her absence leaves a void that UConn cannot fill. The Husky remains as talented as most of the teams in the country, and the goals of competing for a 12th national title remain intact. But the task is now more complicated.

Second, the Bakers have had a challenging basketball experience over the past few years, from her days as the most popular player in the country at Hopkins High in Minnesota. My time to become the face of sport at Storrs. She sustained various injuries, also to the left knee, in early December last year and missed most of the regular season, returning ahead of the NCAA Championship and leading UConn to the 14th consecutive Final. So the news is stinging for reasons beyond affecting the team’s potential.

“Paige is not the first player to rupture the ACL,” assistant coach Chris Dailey said. “Everyone understands that. I’ve been torn about it because of what I’ve been through last year. I’ve worked my way back and since we finished the season, I’ve done everything – staying over to be in the weight room, feeding it, driving it on and off the field. I’ve just taken A giant move. And then this happened. So it was disappointing. It was emotional for her, in particular, and our players. But now I think it’s just what it is. In some ways, maybe having to get through it last year helps, even though we Last year we knew there was a chance of going back and this year they know it isn’t. So it’s a different feeling, but we have to embrace it and I think the players have done that.”

Bueckers languished along their first season in high school, slowed by low leg issues, and Hopkins’ season was interrupted before the state championship game. Then I joined UConn through the haze and isolation of the pandemic, became a shining light in one empty gym after another, and won every Senior National Player of the Year as a freshman.

I almost lost The entire recovery period from ankle surgery, though, and played only five games before falling awkwardly in the season finale of UConn’s victory over Notre Dame. Anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear required surgery and cost over two months into the 2021-22 season, during which the Husky was decimated due to injury above and below the roster.

The Bakers averaged 14.6 points in 17 games last season and He is best known for scoring 27 in a two-time Elite Eight win over NC State, a ticket punch to her hometown of Minneapolis. lost husky South Carolina National Championship Game Final Four.

Auriemma has asked Bueckers to stay at the Storrs this summer, working on strengthening her body to prevent injuries and better absorbing the defenders’ physical approach. Then she tore her ACL, a basketball coincidence and the latest setback, that sidelined the team’s previous plans.

“Losing someone is a bad thing, no matter how you look at them,” Orima said. “It’s happened to us in every way. We’ve lost kids at Senior Knight. We’ve lost kids in the NCAA tournament. We’ve lost kids in January. We’ve lost kids early in the season over the years. It’s never easy. I think there’s some comfort in knowing You won’t be able to count on them.You don’t sit there waiting, “When’s the time to come back?” and mark your calendar.

“And the players know there’s no other choice but to sit in front of us in the dressing room. And that’s good. It’s good for the coaching staff because we play with what we have. It’s good for the players because they have to look around the room and say, OK, our goals can’t change, our expectations. It can’t change, but maybe the way we do it should change.”

So what is actually changing?

naturally, Young Nika Muhl becomes the main point guard. Azzi Fad, who had a lot of injuries last season, will be seen as one of the best players in America, and holds high expectations as a top scorer. UConn should hope so Lou Lopez Special, transfer from FairfieldShe can score as profusely in major college basketball as she did in senior middle college basketball. The rotation of players for positions cannot be as inconsistent as last season. The new student must demonstrate a willingness to contribute even during acclimatization.

And the list goes on.

It’s a complicated recipe.

UConn is still trying to build what it does every fall – a championship team.

“Everyone keeps telling me, ‘We can’t do this the way we used to,’ said Orima. ‘And I would say, ‘Well, then how do you get the same things?’ I think people are human, people are different, people have changed and circumstances have changed, Whatever you want to say. So, if everything changes, does it follow, that what you can expect has changed as well? Or do you think that everything has changed but we will always get the same results? I think there is a way to do this. I don’t know who does that really well.”

In a way, Auriemma’s job was less complicated than it was last season, when he received regular reports on the rehabilitation status of Bueckers and others, and he was hoping they would be back well before the post-season. In another way, it’s more complicated, because all this production packed into one player should be in all areas.

Where can Husky extract 35 minutes, 20 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.

Auriemma said, “Everything has its pros and everything has its downsides. Hey, let’s go easy because we’re not good enough without Paige. So, immediately you send a message, we’re not good enough.” You don’t trust us, coach? Or, listen, we’re going to have to put in twice as much effort as we did without Paige. Oh, so we’ll kill them now to make up for Paige’s loss. So finding that exact line is a real challenge for us as coaches.

“For me, it’s more than that, how do we train these players to play a role that they probably shouldn’t have played? So the person who is not used to being a ball player has to deal with the ball more. The person who is not relied on too much to score, maybe has to He has to score more. Before Paige was injured last year, he averaged 20 per match. So do we suddenly need someone who was averaging five to get 20 per match? Or does someone who was averaging 12 now have to start getting 18 And then four people have to do it. I don’t know. But people will be pushed and challenged to fill new roles. Sometimes this works great. Other times it takes time. But we have time. That’s the beauty of it. We have a lot of time.”

Auriemma, Dailey, Jamelle Elliott and Morgan Valley met with the media on Thursday. Bueckers, effectively, makes Coach No. 5.

Auriemma explained the future of the Bueckers by noting that there is a new book on Jim Thorpe that he is excited to read.

“Everyone described Jim Thorpe as anything anyone could do, just give him 15 minutes and he would be better than anyone else,” Orima said. “I think Paige thinks like that. I think she thinks she’s the modern version of Jim Thorpe, and no matter what anyone thinks they can do, she can do it better. So the moment she got hurt, after the surgery, she said, ‘I’ll be The best coach in the technical staff.”

She told Orima Boeckers she could help the coaches break up the film. There is value in watching the sports you’ve played for a long time. The 2022-23 season will not be an empty experience for the Bakers.

This is a unique relationship between player and coach. For two years now, Auriemma has shook his head and joked how crazy the Bueckers are driving him. They are constantly talking, breaking pieces. Both are heavy on irony. The fun, and sometimes annoying, aspect of their relationship is likely to increase exponentially in the coming months.

“I am keen to get her to learn more about the game by doing these things, by sitting in practice and watching from the eyes of the coach rather than the eyes of the player,” Auriemma said. “And she’ll be the same Paige she has always been, though, and she’s going to drift away and she’s going to want to do this and she’s going to want to do that.

“But I have the maximum punishment ready for her when she starts to feel a pain in the ass. I will make her sit next to the CD for the whole game. That will be the maximum punishment. She won’t say a word for the next three months.”

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