Recruiting Notebook: How Paige Bueckers helped UConn land Azzi Fudd
Paige Bueckers has yet to play a single game for UConn, but she’s already recorded her first assist for the Huskies. Though Geno Auriemma and his staff did most of the leg work for Azzi Fudd’s recruitment, the now-freshman chipped in heavily as well.
Bueckers – who’s best friends with Fudd – began a campaign publicly in Dec. 2019 when she tweeted #GetAzziToUConn. She also took a two-pronged approach to selling Fudd on the Huskies: one focused on winning, and the other, a personal appeal.
“I've had those conversations with her on how successful I think we could be knowing how hard we both work and how well we played together,” Bueckers said. “That was always a conversation and definitely the main thing that I tried to use to get her to come here. So yeah, that was really huge.”
She later added: “I tried to tell her nobody knows her game as well as I do and if she goes to another team, she's gonna have to play against me and I already know her game. So it was definitely that part. And then just the fun off the court like TikToks, dancings videos, and then obviously the competing and practice part. Just like, who gets in the gym or who gets up more shots and then obviously you play one on one and I can beat her then, too. But yeah, it was a little bit of everything.”
Auriemma pointed out that he only even mentioned Fudd’s name to Bueckers twice, so any recruiting pitch his new point guard made was done by her own prerogative.
“I didn't want to put her in a position where, ‘Hey, can you help us recruit Azzi’, so I never did that,” he said. “What she did on her own and what she did off the radar as far as I was concerned, I have no knowledge of that. So, there wasn't this pressure that, ‘Hey, I really need you to help us get her.’ That didn't exist.”
Bueckers wasn’t the only one that helped convince Fudd to come to UConn, though. One of the Huskies’ team managers, Colleen Koch, went to high school with Fudd and the two have remained good friends. Fudd is also close with fellow signee Caroline Ducharme, according to Her Hoops Stats.
So now that Fudd is officially signed, what does Bueckers expect out of their future backcourt partnership?
“I mean, we played together with USA Basketball for a couple years and I really enjoy playing with her,” she said. “We would play together really well on the court, offensively and defensively. A lot of our traits just match up really well together.”
Elliot’s unique recruiting role
After re-joining the coaching staff in February, Jamelle Elliot didn’t play a major part in recruiting UConn’s 2021 class. However, she already knew and met each of the players through her role as director of the National C Club, an athletic department initiative to improve networking and mentorship opportunities between current student-athletes and alumni.
“I wasn't here on the campus visit necessarily in every minute of the 48 hours or the 24 hours they were here on officially on a visit,” she said. “But I did meet with each one of our recruits in an administrative role because obviously, I was in a unique situation being with the National C Club at the time to meet with the parents...as well as the recruits in our incoming class.”
Elliot shared her experience as a player, as a coach at UConn, told them why she fell in love with the school, and explained why she’s stuck around all these years later.
“Just trying to give them a different perspective on what it's like on campus,” she added. “I don't think I played as big of a role as the rest of the staff did, but hopefully I helped out in any way that I can.”
Auriemma focused on results, not potential
Auriemma was not in the mood to talk hypothetically during his last Zoom call with reporters. Though Bueckers and Fudd may be heralded as two of the best prospects in recent memory, he sees it differently.
“This perception that Paige and Azzi are you know the two greatest high school players ever to play high school basketball in the history of high school basketball,” he said. “You know how many Hall of Famers I've coached? We're talking about two kids that have never won a college game in their life.”
He also cautioned against buying into where recruiting services list certain players, especially those like Bueckers and Fudd who were/are at the top of their respective classes. Again, Auriemma prefers to operate in reality, not potential.
“For us, when we get the best player in the country, all it is is we're getting someone's interpretation of who that person is, and what they are, and what they potentially can do. But it's not indicative of anything,” he said.
“You know how many we've gotten that have turned out to be amazing college players and superstars in the professional ranks and in the Olympics? But we've also gotten a bunch of kids that have been number one or two or three or whatever, that just turned out to be okay players and really good players, but nothing special.”
The coach wasn’t trying to say he expects Bueckers, Fudd, or his other 2021 signees to disappoint, however. His point was simply that recruiting well doesn’t always translate to on-court success. Sometimes – like in early 1998 with Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, and Tamika Williams, or in the late 2000s with Tina Charles and Maya Moore – great recruiting leads to national championships. But other times, like in the post-Diana Taurasi years, it doesn’t.
In Auriemma’s view, those determinations should be made after the fact. Only then will he be happy to talk about the 2021 class’s legacy at UConn.
“All I do is ‘I want to get as many good kids in here as I can that I think can help us win national championships.’ Whether or not that happens or not, that still remains to be seen,” he said. “There is a direct correlation between if you sign those guys – at Connecticut anyway – there's a pretty good chance you're going to be an amazing team for a couple of years. Yes, that is a great possibility. Our track record proves that. Yes. But that's not always the case.”
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