Paige Bueckers is still more than a month away from playing her first game for UConn, but the nation's top-ranked recruit has already gotten a taste of Division I trash talk from someone with 11 national championships and more than 1,000 wins.
After the first full practice of the season Wednesday, UConn coach Geno Auriemma explained what it's like to coach the 5-foot-11 freshman guard, who already has a bigger Instagram following than that of Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart or Diana Taurasi.
"Hey, it's just great to be in the presence of greatness and be in her aura of her celebrity-ness," Auriemma said. "We've been such a downtrodden program for all these years. We needed that savior to come in here and save us. She's the anointed one. I'm waiting for the three Magi [to] come to bring me some gifts for having her."
Bueckers acknowledged Wednesday that she gets an earful from the famously sarcastic coach.
"He calls me Paige Kardashian all the time," Bueckers said.
UConn still doesn't know whom it will play this season, with Notre Dame dropping off the tentative schedule earlier this week, but the Huskies know Bueckers will be instrumental if the program is to continue a streak of Final Four appearances that dates to 2008, when Bueckers was in elementary school. UConn lost its two leading scorers from a season ago and enters this season with six freshmen and a newly eligible transfer among the 11 players on its roster.
The Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year as a high school senior -- a national award across sports whose previous winners include UConn greats Charles, Moore and Stewart -- Bueckers didn't sound Wednesday like someone bothered by her coach's needling.
"I go into his office all the time just to talk," Bueckers said. "Just to be able to have that open relationship, where we can talk about anything and have a good relationship, means a whole lot. That's huge in where I wanted to decide where I go to school is having a great relationship. I'm a big relationship person."
Auriemma's barbs, often directed at his best players over the years, hinted at why he said that win or lose, he is going to enjoy coaching this season's team.
"I don't think she can believe all the stuff that's out there about her because that's, like, 180 away from who she really is on the court with our players," Auriemma said of Bueckers. "You would never know. Except for her talent, you would never know. She's just a regular kid that has a lot of talent. She's in the gym all the time working on her game.
"You would think somebody that's famous, somebody that has all this would just take it for granted. She's in the gym all the time working on her game. And the kids know it. They love playing with her because when they're open, they get the ball. And when she's open, they throw it to her, and she scores."