Bueckers and Fudd bring friendship, competitiveness to UConn

STORRS, Conn. — UConn star Paige Bueckers spent a lot of 2020 in the ear of her good friend Azzi Fudd, pushing last year’s top high school prospect to join her at Connecticut.

The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year even showed up at Fudd’s home with a recruiting video that showed Bueckers in high school, making spectacular pass after spectacular pass.

“She sat down, air dropped it to the TV and said, ‘This is what I’ll be doing to Azzi. This is all the passes I’ll get her if she comes to UConn next year. She’ll get all these open shots,'” Fudd said. “I’m just shaking my head. My parents are laughing. It was a Paige moment.”

It apparently worked. Fudd and Bueckers are now together in Storrs, sharing a goal of winning multiple national championships, while bickering over which of them won their last game of H-O-R-S-E.

“We both hate losing, to each other more than anything,” Bueckers said. “We both want to win; we want to make each other better. I think that works on and off the court.”

They have a chemistry that goes back to when they were young teens, competing for a spot on a USA Basketball team.

Fudd said she initially thought she would get no real competition from this “skinny white girl,” who seemed like her polar opposite. Fudd was quiet and a “detail perfectionist.” Bueckers was brash and a bit flashy.

“And then we both made the team and I realized she was actually one of the best players I’d ever seen play,” Fudd said.

They are two of the biggest names on a UConn team that returns from last season’s Final Four mostly intact, losing just one key player to transfer (reserve Anna Makurat).

Fudd leads a recruiting class that also includes top prospects Amari DeBerry, Caroline Ducharme and Saylor Poffenbarger, who joined the Huskies in the middle of last season after leaving high school early. UConn also landed a top transfer, Dorka Juhász, who averaged a double-double for Ohio State last season.

“We basically have two starting fives,” Bueckers said.

Coach Geno Auriemma said this team is among the most competitive he’s ever had in Storrs and that Fudd has been as advertised during summer workouts.

“Her footwork is the kind of footwork that you would expect from someone going into the pros, someone who has spent three or four years perfecting that,” Auriemma said last week. “That’s how good her footwork is. Her ability to get shots off, and the way the shot comes off every single time the same way. I knew it, but when you watch it on a regular basis, it’s pretty amazing. And she’s a lot stronger than I realized. I had never spent that much time that close. So it’s been fun watching her.”

Bueckers and Fudd have yet to share the court together at UConn. That’s expected to happen in August, when Bueckers is fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery and Fudd returns from a stint with USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup team.

Bueckers joked that once they are in the same backcourt, Fudd can forget about receiving all those fancy passes.

“That deal’s over,” she said. “The recruiting tactic worked. But if she’s open and I’m open, I’ll probably take the shot.”

More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball