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Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers are dominant on the court, and good buddies away from it

Two of the players in contention to be the Most Outstanding Player of their respective 2021 NCAA Tournament have known each other since they were kids, growing up in the Minneapolis area together.

UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers dribbles in the first half against the Syracuse Orange at the Alamodome. Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers have plenty in common beyond just being a pair of AAU basketball players from Minnesota. They are two of the best college basketball players in the country who grew up a quick car ride from each other, have scarily-similar career arcs, and are likely heading for the top of the draft in pro basketball.

Suggs and Bueckers are both from Minnesota, and have a friendship that dates back to fourth-grade and Bueckers step-brother playing on an AAU team with Suggs. (Check the 10 minute mark of this video about how they met, and the craziest game of rock, paper, scissors ties in history).

They have similar games in that they’re able to both score and become a playmaker, and both are leading teams with a very good chance to cut down the nets to end the 2021 season as college player of the year. But their off-the-court relationship has been forged in knowing each other since they were 10-years-old — and each considers the other almost family.

Suggs now stars in what is likely his only season at Gonzaga, after winning both Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football as a quarterback in Minnesota his senior year. He won three state titles in basketball at Minnehaha Academy before missing on a fourth his senior season due to COVID-19, and averaged 23.5 points per game his senior season. And as a quarterback he lost the football state title in the championship game after having won it the previous season.

Bueckers has been the consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2020 since she entered high school, and committed pretty early to the UConn Huskies. The 2019-20 Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year and Naismith Prep Player averaged 21.0 points, 9.2 assists, 5.2 steals and 5.1 rebounds a game as a senior, leading Hopkins HS to a 30-0 record before the state title game was canceled due to coronavirus. She also won the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup MVP before her senior year, and has wowed all of college basketball since arriving in Storrs.

Their story is pretty amazing, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for both to be the No. 1 overall pick in both the NBA and WNBA Draft at some point. Suggs will have plenty of challenge for that spot from Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley if he chooses to leave Gonzaga this year, but it’s hard to see a WNBA team finding a player other than Bueckers in the top spot whenever she chooses to leave Geno Auriemma and Storrs.

And maybe it’s something in the frozen water of southeast Minnesota, but having two elite talents that have found each other at an early age become great friends is a pretty great story. One that might be even more amazing if they cut down the nets in two weeks at the Final Four.