UConn star Paige Bueckers 'all cleared' to return from ACL injury

UConn guard Paige Bueckers is finally healthy, and looking to lead the Huskies back to the Final Four.

UConn star Paige Bueckers is "all cleared" to return to the basketball court following an ACL injury.

Bueckers was forced to miss the 2022-23 season after she suffered an ACL tear in her left knee on Aug. 1, 2022 during a pickup game ahead of her junior year, marking the second major knee injury she's faced during her college career. But nearly a year to the day she went down with the preseason injury, Bueckers announced that she's back.

"All cleared and ready for takeoff," Bueckers captioned an Instagram gallery documenting her rehabilitation process, from her walking on crutches to proudly posing in her UConn jersey. "369 days… GOD DID!"

Head coach Geno Auriemma said she's even better than before.

"This is the best she's ever been. The strongest she's ever been. The fittest she's ever been. This is the most time she has spent working on her body, her mind, you know, just taking care of herself," he said in June. "I think she's way ahead and maybe that's what the year off did. It showed her if you want a long career, this is how you're going to have to go about it from here on out. Injuries or no injuries, it doesn't matter."

Bueckers was named the AP Player of the Year and Naismith College Player of the Year in 2021 following a breakout freshmen campaign, where she averaged 20 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.4% percent from three, and led the Huskies to a Final Four appearance.

She was limited to playing only 17 games her sophomore year after having surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture and meniscus tear in December 2021. Despite Bueckers' limited availability, the Huskies made it to the NCAA tournament championship game before losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks. She finished the season averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

Bueckers was eligible to declare for the 2023 WNBA draft, but vowed in September to return to UConn.

"I'm not leaving. That is not in question," Bueckers said following her injury. "People asked me, 'What are you thinking about fifth year, COVID year, redshirting this year.' I'm not thinking too far ahead about that at all. But I will be playing college basketball again."

UConn is coming off a 31-6 season marred by injuries, including Bueckers. Ice Brady missing the entire year with a dislocated patella and Azzi Fudd missing time due to a knee injury. The Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16, but saw its streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances come to an end.

The Huskies will be without freshman forward Jana El Alfy, who will miss the 2023-24 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Contributing: Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paige Bueckers says she's ready for UConn return after ACL injury