Basketball: 'Buckets with Bueckers' - Hopkins standout, with ties to lakes area, giving back to her sport
At age 16, Hopkins High School basketball phenom Paige Bueckers has already realized more success and experiences than most prep players can ever dream of achieving.
Perhaps even more remarkable than her achievements on the court is the desire she has already developed about wanting to give back to her sport and help younger kids grow and become as passionate about basketball as she is.
The 5-foot-11 going-to-be junior guard for the Hopkins Royals was in Brainerd Thursday and Friday, Aug. 23-24, putting on a "Buckets with Bueckers" clinic at the Brainerd Family YMCA for athletes in grades 2-9. The clinics are almost a respite in her busy summer schedule.
In June, Bueckers went undefeated with her Team USA Youth Olympic teammates in winning the Women's Elite Division at Hoopfest 2018 in Spokane Wash., the world's largest 3-on-3 tournament.
With her on the team were Haley Van Lith (Wenatchee, Wash.), Samantha Brunelle (Ruckersville. Va.) and Aaliyah Boston (U.S. Virgin Islands). The same team will be scrimmaging again in September and competing in the Summer Youth Olympic games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Last year, Bueckers helped the 2017 USA National Team capture the FIBA Americas Championship gold medal with a 5-0 record in Buenos Aires.
She was also chosen this summer to be one of 12 athletes to play for Team USA in the FIBA 2018 U17 World Basketball Cup in Minsk, Belarus. That experience started with training camp in Colorado Springs, Co., in early July, exhibition games in Washington D.C., and a championship in the 2018 Latvia U17 International Invitational. They capped off their schedule with a gold medal in the World Cup July 29.
Bueckers said Friday that one of her biggest thrills over the last few years has been the chance to keep representing her country.
"You can't really explain how much it means to me to display Team USA across my chest," she said. "It's something that keeps me going."
Somehow, in the midst of her busy summer schedule this year, Bueckers found time to return home and compete with her Hopkins teammates in the High School Preseason Sweet Sixteen championship where they finished first.
When asked what athletes inspire her, Bueckers mentioned Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
"I've always liked his game," she said of Irving. "I just try to pick apart his film and see what he does, and mirror my game after him. And, I like LeBron not only because of the recognition and what he has done on the court, but everything else he does to give back and for the community.
"It means a lot that you can use your your skills to impact the world, not only for younger kids, but also for women's sports in general."
That attitude led to Bueckers developing her own clinics this year, something she looks forward to. She did a clinic in Montana with her mother earlier this summer and hopes to do another this fall in the Hopkins area.
The Brainerd clinics came about because of family ties to the lakes area. Her mother, Amy Dettbarn, is a 1995 Brainerd graduate who participated in cross country, basketball and track and field. Dettbarn admits that her primary sports were cross country and track and that she played basketball more to stay in shape, but never started.
Bueckers' grandparents, Steve and JoAnn Dettbarn, still live in the Brainerd area and frequently travel to watch their granddaughter play—most all of her games with Hopkins and many of the national and international games as well. They also help sponsor the costs of the clinics including T-shirts and water bottles for those who pre-register.
Participants in the clinic are not charged a fee, but are encouraged to bring a donation for a local charity of their choice. Other sponsors of Bueckers' clinics are Hy-Tec Construction (for whom Steve Dettbarn works), Dr. Roland Kehr (for whom JoAnn Dettbarn works), Essentia Health, Crow Wing Recycling, Brainerd Industrial Center and Brainerd Family YMCA.
In addition to sharing some skills and drills that the young athletes can take home and develop on their own, sit-down question and answer sessions are included where Bueckers shares how she fell in love with basketball, how she pushed herself, how she trains and her experiences on Team USA. She also covers the importance of being well-rounded and having good grades (she's a straight A student).
Bueckers first picked up a basketball when she was 5 years old, but was drawn to all forms of athletics during grade school.
"When I was younger, I was into all athletics, and I played with the boys all the time during recesses," she said. "I played all the sports like football, soccer, baseball and basketball. Basketball was something I could work on downstairs in the garage where I lived and I guess it grew from there."
Few Minnesota high school girls have received the attention Bueckers has since Janet Karvonen was a pioneer for girls basketball in Minnesota leading New York Mills to three consecutive state championship in the late 1970s and a third-place finish in 1980.
Prospect Nation has Bueckers ranked No. 1 in the nation for her class of 2020.
As an eighth-grader in 2015-16, she started in six games for Hopkins, averaged 8.9 points per game and helped the Royals to a 28-3 record and the finals of the Class 4A state tournament where they finished second to Minnetonka.
Her freshman year, she started all 29 games averaging 21.6 points per game and led her team back to the 4A championship game where Hopkins was beaten by Elk River, its only loss of the season.
Last year as a sophomore, Bueckers started all 27 games and averaged 22.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.1 steals. The Royals finished 24-3 with their third consecutive state runner-up finish, this time to Eastview.
Over her three-year prep career, Bueckers has led Hopkins to an 82-5 record. She has amassed 1,508 points, 389 rebounds, 361 assists, 278 steals and 39 blocked shots.
Almost every major collegiate program in the nation has expressed an interest in Bueckers. With the hiring of Lindsay Whalen by the University of Minnesota as head coach for Gophers women's basketball, Bueckers says her interest in the Gophers has grown.
"I'm trying to narrow it down to the top 15 or top 10 by the end of this fall and then go visit those schools," she said. "Minnesota's going to be in there."
For the immediate future, Bueckers says her goals are to win a gold medal again in Buenos Aires in October and a state championship for Hopkins in March.
"I just thank God for all he's done for me and I know that what I'm going through, not many people get to do it," she said. "So I just keep thanking Him, having faith in Him, and I know that whatever's up next, it's in His path. I hope to see more success in the future, but it's all under Him."