Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

That’s “Paige Buckets” to You.

Paige Bueckers’ growing personal brand just took a major step forward — but the UConn superstar’s only getting started.

Connecticut Huskies guard Paige Bueckers is more than just the reigning national player of the year — the rising sophomore is the most popular player in women’s college basketball.

And now, with name, image, and likeness legislation on the books, she’s ready to capitalize on a whole world of opportunities.

As she recovers from offseason ankle surgery, Bueckers is hard at work cultivating her personal brand. Trademark attorney Josh Gerbin reported on Tuesday that Bueckers has applied for a federal trademark for her nickname, “Paige Buckets.”

And it’s merely the latest indication that the 19-year-old Bueckers is primed to cash in on her on-court popularity in a major way.

Paige’s Presence

Though it could be said for any college athlete in the NIL era, Bueckers might just be in school at exactly the right moment. She had the most combined followers on Twitter and Instagram of any player in the 2021 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight — men’s or women’s — and has been an Instagram celebrity since well before she even committed to UConn.

Just look at her social reach, which speaks for itself:

Twitter followers: 56,173
Instagram followers: 901,439
TikTok followers: 336,100

For context, UConn men’s basketball star and Charlotte Hornets lottery pick James Bouknight has 82,508 on IG. No. 1 NBA Draft selection Cade Cunningham has 452,267. Louisville’s Dana Evans, who finished second to Bueckers in AP Player of the Year voting, has 37,096.

Of those three, only Cunningham has more followers than Paige Buckets on TikTok and Twitter.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

The Trademark

Records show that Bueckers applied for the trademark on July 13, just days after winning the ESPY award for Best College Athlete in Women’s Sports. If approved, it would cover athletic apparel, “namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, athletic uniforms,” according to the official filing.

An important note here: Per UConn’s NIL rules, Bueckers cannot use school branding or imagery in any deal. The Paige Buckets branding would be a way to throw a different logo on her apparel.

One that would become synonymous with Bueckers the player, rather than Bueckers the Husky. In so many ways, this is about the long haul.

A Household Name

Bueckers’ rise from Instagram fame to hardwood hero happened almost as soon as she got to Storrs. Fans knew from watching her high school highlights that she could score and distribute, and that her flash and playmaking ability was reminiscent of another former Husky, Diana Taurasi.

As the early-season hype cranked up, Bueckers routinely showed she was up to the challenge. She led UConn in scoring (20.0 per game), assists (5.8 per game), three-point percentage (46.4%), and free throw percentage (86.9%), but she wasn’t just stuffing the stat sheet with empty calories.

On Jan. 21, when the Huskies visited arch-rival Tennessee, she hit a back-breaking three with the shot clock running down that sealed the win.

Two weeks later, after willing UConn into overtime against top-ranked South Carolina, she did it again, hitting a miracle three that became the most iconic shot of her freshman season.

A freshman who could step in immediately, put the team on her back, and consistently deliver was destined to become a fan favorite. Instantly.

And to do all of this with the confidence and flash of a seasoned pro? Well, that made the stardom she enjoys today a foregone conclusion.

Opportunities Abound

In June, a billboard appeared on I-84 in Connecticut. It read:

“America’s highest-paid college athlete plays in Connecticut. We just can’t pay her yet.”

The message was courtesy of Six Star Pro Nutrition, a Canada-based company that sells workout and wellness supplements. The billboard was created before governor Ned Lamont signed the state’s NIL legislation into law, and was a clear reference to Bueckers.

A Canadian company spending money on a billboard that merely references an athlete demonstrates the power of Bueckers’ brand.

Back in March, Opendorse projected that she could earn over $382,000 a year based on her Twitter and Instagram followings alone. And they’ve only grown since then. UConn has since partnered with Opendorse to help its athletes monetize their NIL rights.

Other than her elite skill and rabid social following, it also helps that Bueckers plays for arguably the women’s college basketball team with the strongest brand and biggest fanbase in the country.

UConn has long presented (and marketed) its men’s and women’s basketball programs on equal footing, giving both teams the opportunity to play on campus and in the 15,000-seat XL Center in Hartford, and televising all non-national TV games for both teams on SNY, the regional TV network that also airs the New York Mets . In 2020, UConn ranked fourth in the country in women’s basketball per-game attendance, trailing three schools with considerably larger on-campus arenas.

With all this in her favor, Bueckers’ visibility puts her in an attractive position with regards to local NIL opportunities, while her social media celebrity presents her with chances to cash in nationally well ahead of her WNBA debut, which won’t arrive sooner than next year.

The legend of Paige Buckets is just a year old in Storrs. As long as she stays healthy, her potential to build a singularly powerful personal brand in the ecosystem of basketball — and sports in general — may end up just like her game on the court:

Unrivaled.