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Paige Bueckers Named 2019–20 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year

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On Monday, Paige Bueckers and her teammates gathered around in the Hopkins High School gymnasium for what she thought was a photoshoot for a local television station.

While Bueckers was posing with a basketball, her teammates began screaming. Startled, she turned around to a huge surprise: Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns looming behind her. He was there to present Bueckers with the 2020 Gatorade Girls Basketball National Player of the Year award, a trophy that Towns won for the boys in 2014.

"It's surreal that life has come full circle for me to be doing this when I received the award in the same fashion,” Towns told Sports Illustrated. Towns was surprised before his award by Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, who posed as his substitute art teacher.

"It didn't hit me at first glance, I thought, 'Wow we got a really big, tall, burly substitute art teacher today,'” Towns said.

Bueckers was ambushed by a similarly big, tall man. Towns—who is currently recovering from a wrist injury that has kept him out of commission for a month—surprised the Minnesota high schooler that most consider the best women’s high school player in the nation.

“It was crazy, I turned around and I saw him,” Bueckers said. “Just for him to be here is really awesome."

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The two had first met a week prior, when the two-time All-Star and teammates D’Angelo Russell, James Johnson and Josh Okogie saw Bueckers lead Hopkins High School to a victory over Wayzatta, which cemented her fourth-straight ticket to the state championships. 

After the game, the two conversed and exchanged information. Bueckers and Towns have been in touch over social media since, with Bueckers intending to pepper Towns with questions about how to handle external pressures and college life.

The senior, who will head to UConn in the summer, has led Hopkins to an undefeated record this season, averaging 21.8 points, 9.3 assists, 5.3 steals and 5.1 rebounds in the process. She became the sixth UConn player to win the Player of the Year award in the last decade.

Towns thinks that Bueckers has the potential to be better than perhaps UConn’s greatest legend, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi.

"Honestly, the sky is the limit. If she puts the work in, keeps believing in herself and she keeps growing as a player and a leader, we could be talking about her as being better than Diana Taurasi,” Towns said. "She has that kind of ability."

When asked about that comparison, Bueckers demurred.

“That’s awesome to think about, that my game is compared to hers at such a young age,” Bueckers said. "But I think for me, I don’t want to be compared to anybody else. I don’t want to be greater than anybody else—I just want to be the best Paige that I can be."