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Paige Bueckers Uses Her Platform to Shed Light on Racial Justice

The UConn basketball star highlights the lack of coverage for Black women in sports.
Paige final cover

It’s been clear for a while now that Paige Bueckers is a force on the basketball court. At Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minn., she was a starter on the varsity team… as an eighth grader. She was the country’s top-rated recruit as a senior, and in her first year at UConn the 5’11’’ guard averaged 20 points, was a unanimous All-American and became the first freshman to win the Naismith Award as the national college player of the year. Following that fabulous debut season she was named the Best Women’s College Athlete at the 2021 ESPYs.

It was on that ESPYs stage in New York City last summer that Bueckers announced herself as a force off the court as well. In front of an audience that included WNBA greats Maya Moore and Sabrina Ionescu, tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic skiing gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, Bueckers used her speech to recognize and honor Black women in basketball. "With the light that I have now as a white woman who leads a Black-led sport and celebrated here, I want to shed a light on Black women," she said. "They don't get the media coverage that they deserve. They've given so much to the sport, the community and society as a whole and their value is undeniable.” [Watch her full speech here.]

Bueckers is only 20 years old and still just a UConn sophomore, but a future in which she uses her own successes to lift others seems assured. Last fall she became the first college athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Gatorade, and she also has one with online apparel retailer StockX. But as she made clear in her ESPYs speech, “celebrating other people’s success doesn’t diminish yours.”

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“People say things like, ‘She really handles herself well’ … She doesn’t have to handle herself. That’s just her,” her father, Bob Bueckers, shared with CT Insider. “And that’s what I like. She is confident in who she is and doing it in a positive way. She fights for what she feels is right, which are a lot of things true to my heart, too — people who are struggling, social injustice — but this isn’t a made-up Paige for Twitter or Instagram. This is just who she is.”

That confidence and positivity helped Bueckers get through a difficult sophomore season, when a knee injury kept her off the court for more than two months. She’s back now, and her determination and dedication—not to mention her incredible skills—make No. 2-seeded UConn one of the favorites in the NCAA tournament this month. “Since I was young, I’ve always wanted to be the best and win at everything, so whatever I had to do whether it was telling myself I’m the best defender even though nobody really thinks I play defense; I do a lot of positive self-talk, and I give myself confidence by talking to myself,” she said.

Before every game, Bob Bueckers texts his daughter: “Be you. Be great.” Wins and accolades on the court are nice, but Paige Buecker’s true greatness lies in her dedication to helping others reach new heights as well. 

Beginning on International Women’s Day (March 8), the Pay With Change initiative will be front and center on SI Swim channels through daily spotlights on the women, brands and properties making a concerted effort to fight for women’s equality.