Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: With a dramatic moment, Paige Bueckers promises more to come; Dan Hurley on promoting the game, and more (2024)

Paige Bueckers plays to put fans on the edge of their seats, ready to jump out of them. At this moment she created Friday night, she also had the UConn women’s basketball fans at Gampel Pavilion eating their popcorn from the palm of her hand, as she held the mic in the other.

“I know that everyone wants me to address the elephant in the room,” she said, as the chants of “one more year” quieted. “Unfortunately, this will not be my last senior night.”

Paige Bueckers, Aubrey Griffin announce return to UConn women’s basketball for 2024-25 season

Like a seasoned show-stopper, Bueckers, 22, commanded the stage and brought down the house. Her timing and delivery near flawless, she gave the people what they wanted. And she left them wanting more.

“I wanted to do it in a way that sounded like I wasn’t coming back, and then surprise them that I was coming back,” Bueckers said later, backstage. “Just the reaction from the crowd is everything you dream of, the love and support, it’s a great feeling to be wanted, a great feeling to have people want to have you back.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma insisted he didn’t know what Bueckers was going to say, even as she took the mic from Aaliyah Edwards, Hard to believe, but then, if he did know he might’ve spilled the beans a day early, as he did with Aubrey Griffin’s decision to return.

But he was happy enough with the news of Senior Night, and the strange, serendipity of what it all means. The pandemic disrupted the careers of the Huskies’ seniors, and all the injuries they have suffered have marred their experience. But now, those things have created this rare chance for Auriemma, who will be back for his 40th season, to coach not only a team of stars, but older, vastly experienced stars who figure to be hungry to finish the unfinished business. The chance to coach Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, with Griffin, the latter two expected back from their knee surgeries, beckons.

“I just want it to work out for them,” Auriemma said. “I desperately want it to work out for them.”

Through no fault of her own, Bueckers has not been able to stage enough dramatic moments at Gampel. Her tour de force in overtime against South Carolina as a freshman was played before a nearly empty arena at the height of the pandemic. Her spectacular OT performance against NC State in the NCAA regionals at Bridgeport was the one flash of her injury-marred sophom*ore season. After missing all last season, Bueckers is nearing the end of her first full, normal college season, but she is getting her legs back under her, and the injuries all around her have not put her in positions to deliver against elite teams, at least not yet.


— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) February 17, 2024

So she kept it close to vest until Senior Night, then she promised that her best is yet to come. “I felt it would be a burden off my chest,” she said, “to be able to address the crowd that I love so much. I thought it was a great time to do it.”

There is really only one factor in play here: Don’t mess with happy. If a player has simply had enough of college, they should go. But the name-image-likeness revenue stream, especially for Bueckers, lessens any urgency to go pro for financial reasons, and the WNBA isn’t as fixated as the NBA on players’ ages going into the draft. The pro career will be there when Bueckers is ready to leave UConn and, by the way, she actually has two more years of eligibility.

“Wanting to get more time here, more time with my teammates, more time with my coaches, more time at Gampel, was the biggest reason,” she said.

More for your Sunday Read:

Dan Hurley Media Availability | 2.16.24

— UConn Men's Basketball (@UConnMBB) February 16, 2024

Dan Hurley: Tell college hoop’s stories

As the glow from last season’s championship still lingers over UConn men, and the quest for a repeat is going so well, coach Dan Hurley has taken on the cause of college basketball doing a better job of marketing and promoting itself.

“If you look at the other sports, where the media told those stories, really built up those players, built up those coaches, those programs,” Hurley said. “If it’s just the fact that we play when the NBA is going on, the runway doesn’t clear for us until the NFL is done, but man, it’s a great sport. In college basketball, we play life and death for these games every single night. You’re either on the bubble or you’re fighting for seeding, or you’re a coach that’s on the rise or a coach that’s trying to hang on to his job.”

Hurley is correct that storytelling, and the development of storylines in the college game is lacking. It is also lacking in college football, where midweek access, even for local media, is so limited.

College basketball suffers from the perception it is a one-month season, which would only be exacerbated if they ever expanded the Field of 68 (more on that below), but regular-season games can have meaning that could be better emphasized. College hoops first proved its value on national TV with a regular-season game, the UCLA-Houston “Game of the Century” in January 1968.

Certainly, the shrinking resources of traditional media outlets makes for less content than their once was. But programs could better avail themselves to free attention by making practices and interviews more accessible. Anyway, it’s an interesting, complex issue and Hurley deserves credit for trying to start a conversation about it.

“We’ve got some great characters,” he said, “players, coaches, but the Big East could do a better job, we could do a better job of institutions in terms of how we tell our own stories. I do think it’s underwhelming.”

Sunday short takes

*Matt Barnes, the former UConn ace to became an All-Star closer with the Red Sox, is recovered from hip surgery and, as a free agent, has been throwing for scouts. Seems like the Yankees or Mets (who were there) could use an arm like his, if he’s close to 100 percent.

Amida Brimah now has 322 blocks in his @nbagleague career, placing him second all time. Needs another 23 to take the lead. #UConn

— Global Huskies (@GlobalHuskies) February 11, 2024

*Former Husky Amida Brimah is still swatting away in the G League. Brimah, 30, a member of the 2014 national champs, now with Santa Cruz, picked up his 322nd career block in the developmental circuit. He needs 22 to top the record-holder, Raphiael Putney.

*Alexis Yetna, who prepped at Putnam Science, has rejoined the fray with the Fairfield men’s basketball team. Yetna, 6 feet 8, has played at South Florida, where he was AAC freshman of the year in 2019 and earned a degree in economics in 2021, and at Seton Hall. Having missed 2 1/2 seasons with knee injuries, and with his Covid year, he’s still eligble at age 26. Yetna debuted for the Stags Feb. 8 with 18 minutes in a victory against Rider. Could be a difference-maker in the MAAC tournament.

*Some rather interesting Boston sports artifacts are available for the well-heeled in the next Heritage Auctions Feb. 24-25. In the lot is a baseball glove used by Babe Ruth in 1916, bidding already approaching half a million; a jacket worn and trophy once presented to Red Auerbach; a sealed case of 1979-80 hockey cards (Wayne Gretzky’s rookie year, Whalers first NHL season) is expected to fetch in the millions.

Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: With a dramatic moment, Paige Bueckers promises more to come; Dan Hurley on promoting the game, and more (1)

*Sacred Heart’s Ny’Ceara Pryor, who played a dominant role in the Pioneers’ run to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament last season, crossed the 1,000 point mark in her 57th game, faster than any player in program history. SHU, leading the Northeast Conference, is well positioned to go back.

*Lefty Dominic Niman, from West Hartford and former ace of the CCSU staff, is set to begin his career as a transfer at Kentucky. Niman, named a preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, is slated to be in the Wildcats’ weekend rotation.

*Don’t know how many years on the ballot it would take, but Eli Manning should be in the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible next year. Given the nature of football, where big games matter more than accumulated stats, and the singular importance of the position, the most successful and significant quarterback in the history of a 100-year-old franchise as prominent as the Giants is a no-brainer.

*James Bouknight, looking for a new NBA home, visited UConn’s practice Friday.

Commentary: Hands off the NCAA Tournament, power-conference commissioners

Last word

Thumbs down on any efforts to change, or expand the NCAA men’s or women’s basketball tournaments. Looking at the 2023 men’s field of 68, the Big Ten and SEC each got eight teams in, the Big 12 got seven, the ACC five, the Pac-12 four. That’s 32 of the entries, so where is the issue? Big 12 commish Brett Yormark’s suggestion that the best teams don’t get to compete just doesn’t hold water.

The mid-major automatic qualifiers, which have turned the first two rounds a national holiday and given oxygen to the passion for college basketball in every nook and cranny of the country, are not taking bids away from power-conference teams truly deserving a chance to play for the national championship.

Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: Quinnipiac men reach for history; local family’s ties to an NFL pioneer; former UConn star continues to need tough love and more

Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: With a dramatic moment, Paige Bueckers promises more to come; Dan Hurley on promoting the game, and more (2024)
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