WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said star guard Paige Bueckers is "90%" recovered from tearing her left ACL last summer and he expects her to be fully ready by the start of the regular season.
"If she's not ready to go [by then], then I'm not ready to go," Auriemma said Tuesday. "Let's put it that way."
Speaking to reporters at his annual charity golf tournament at the Hartford Golf Club, Auriemma praised Bueckers for the work she has put in as she continues to recover from the injury that sidelined her for the entirety of the 2022-2023 season and said he has been impressed by what he has seen from her in recent months.
"This is the best she's ever been, the strongest she's ever been, the fittest she's ever been," Auriemma said. "This is the most time she has spent working on her body, her mind, [and] just taking care of herself... [The injury layoff] showed her, if you want a long career, this is how you're gonna have to go about it from here on in injuries, no injuries, it doesn't matter. This is what you're gonna have to do. And she's embraced it.
"I've never seen her better either at playing one-on-one, 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, what she's doing in the weight room. Just her whole walk, the way she walks around, the way everybody looks up to her and the way everybody hangs on every word she says, there's just a maturity about her."
Bueckers earned national player of the year honors during her freshman season in 2020-2021 but hasn't been able to play a full season since because of injuries. During her sophomore year, she tore her lateral meniscus and had a tibial plateau fracture, limiting her to just 17 games. She led the Huskies to the 2022 national championship game in her return but then suffered the ACL tear in August.
Now a redshirt junior, Bueckers told reporters last week she was "very close" to being fully cleared but was uncertain if she would play in the team's August exhibition games in Europe.
Auriemma echoed her uncertainty about being ready in time for those games.
"I think it's going to be when she feels mentally ready, not physically ready, mentally," he said. "Physically, [she's] 90%, she said 90%. If we were in the Final Four this coming week, you think she'd play? Hell yeah, but this isn't April."
UConn was marred by injuries during the 2022-2023 season. Finishing with a 31-6 record, the team lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16. The defeat marked the end of the Huskies' 14-season streak of consecutive Final Four appearances. Auriemma said the team is feeling "cautiously optimistic" about the upcoming season and that the Huskies are hopeful they will not face the same injury woes. He said the summer workouts had been primarily focused on strength, conditioning and injury prevention.
The Huskies are 11-time national champions but have not won the title since 2016. Auriemma said the expectations for the team are always high and admitted the past few years have been challenging. But, in trademark fashion, he said they weren't focused on the past or listening to any of the outside noise.
"The thing I learned a long time ago is stop talking about what you're going to do, stop talking about what you hope happens and what happened last year and how you felt," Auriemma said. "Everybody knows, 'Hey, what's your goal at Connecticut?' What do you think it is at Connecticut? Well, the goal is to win a national championship every year. Everybody knows it. You don't have to talk about it ...
"This isn't a 1970s rock band out for their 60th tour and they have to give every tour a name. You know, everybody's got a 'redeem team' and everybody's got a 'reload team' and everybody's got an 'unfinished business team' and everybody's got, you know, all this stuff going out there. You know, maybe we're not very social media savvy. How about we just shut the f--- up and win games?"