The awards keep coming for super recruit Paige Bueckers, who on Monday was named the 2019-20 Gatorade national Girls Basketball Player of the Year – and Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns was there to surprise her.
Lining up for a photo with her teammates, Towns walked into the gym from behind and stunned Bueckers with the trophy. Here's the moment it happened:
It marked the second time in a week that Towns surprised Bueckers.
Last Thursday, Towns and three Wolves teammates – D'Angelo Russell, James Johnson and Josh Okogie – strolled into the Lindbergh Center at Hopkins High School to see Bueckers score 33 points in a 86-76 win over rival Wayzata to clinch a berth in the state tournament.
Towns tweeted: "She’s different..sheeshhhh," while Russell tweeted that he'll need one of her jerseys the next time he sees her.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes student-athletes for their accomplishments on and off the court. Bueckers joins the likes of Towns, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and many others to win it, not to mention Twins great Joe Mauer, who won the 2001 Gatorade Player of the Year award in football.
Bueckers' week is just getting started as top-seed Hopkins, ranked ninth in nation by Max Preps, faces Cambridge-Isanti in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state tournament. Tipoff is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Target Center.
"Stay locked in and go out on a high note. Last year was one of the best days I can remember," said Bueckers, who has helped lead Hopkins to 60 consecutive wins. "I plan to go undefeated. We can't lose or we're done. Just to get that second state championship would mean everything."
Bright future behind Bueckers at Hopkins
As the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country, Bueckers gets most of the attention for the undefeated Royals. But she's also shining light on her teammates, who have extremely bright futures.
Mya Nnaji, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward, is rated by ESPN's HoopGurlz as the eight-best recruit in the country in the Class of 2022. Her brother Zeke Nnaji, who led Hopkins boys to the state title a year ago, is one of the best freshmen in the nation at the University of Arizona.
"Whenever we need a bucket people look to me but I'm like 'no,' just give the ball to her," Bueckers said of Nnaji before raving about sophomore point guard Amaya Battle, whom she credited for a lot of her points.
"She's a great player, great defender, great shooter."
And the future gets even brighter with the Class of 2023, as Bueckers said Hopkins is in good hands with a pair of 6-foot-1 ninth-graders, Taylor Woodson and Sunaja Agara.
"Their athletic ability is crazy, both of them can touch rim. I can't wait to see what they're going to do," said Bueckers. "They're so young but they're so great and they're willing to learn from me and the coaches."
Bueckers would love to see her teammates get the chance to showcase their ability to the rest of the country, but the Minnesota State High School League recently blocked the Hopkins girls and Minnehaha Academy boys from participating in an invite-only national tournament.
"Hopefully, if I can get a petition going I want them to compete nationally and shine that light on Hopkins and Minnesota basketball," Bueckers said.
The Star Tribune reported that the MSHSL blocked opportunity because of bylaws and the fact that the tournament isn't sanctioned by the National Federation of High Schools.