UConn's Geno Auriemma: Paige Bueckers should be able to enter WNBA draft, but staying helps her 'build a brand'

Bueckers' 28 points lead UConn to its 13th consecutive Final Four (2:08)

Paige Bueckers goes off for 28 points in the Elite Eight to help the No. 1-seeded Huskies outlast No. 2 Baylor 69-67. (2:08)

SAN ANTONIO -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he would support a one-and-done environment in women's college basketball, saying that student-athletes like his freshman star, Paige Bueckers, "should have choices to how they want to live their lives and how they want to take control of their own lives."

Draft-entry restrictions are part of the WNBA's current collective bargaining agreement. Unlike in the men's game, in which players can turn pro after one season, most women's players are not eligible for the WNBA draft until after their fourth year in college. There are some exceptions for juniors: if they have been in school for four years, if they turn 22 during the year of the draft, or if they graduate within three months of the draft.

Although Auriemma said he believes Bueckers should be able to enter the draft after her freshman season, he also acknowledged the current rules have helped his program and can also benefit the player in the long run.

"Should she have the opportunity to go? Should that choice exist?" Auriemma, speaking to reporters on a Zoom conference call Wednesday, said of Bueckers. "Well, if the WNBA and their players say, 'Yes,' then she should. But as of right now, the answer is no. I'm OK with the answer being yes. But I really like that the answer is no, because that's what's helped our game grow.

"The fact that these kids stay in school a little bit longer, build a brand for themselves, build a brand for the university."

Bueckers, who became the first freshman to be named Associated Press national player of the year Wednesday, leads the Huskies in scoring and assists. Many think she would be the No. 1 pick if she were eligible for the WNBA draft now.

Auriemma said he believes Bueckers is building her brand now. In addition to her on-court performance, her friendship with Gonzaga freshman star Jalen Suggs has gotten a lot of attention because of the success of both Minnesota natives in this postseason, with their teams in their respective Final Fours this weekend.

"Two kids from the same neighborhood, same background, same everything, go to school 3,000 miles apart, and their paths are 3,000 miles different," Auriemma said. "One is going to have the opportunity to be the 1, 2, 3 pick in the NBA draft and make millions and millions of dollars. And the other one is gonna be back at UConn."

As with Bueckers, Auriemma said another freshman has helped build her brand this year: Iowa's Caitlin Clark, whom UConn faced in the Sweet 16.

"She would leave at the end of the year [if she were a men's player]," Auriemma said of Clark, who led Division I women in scoring this season. "But she stays ... she gets to build the Iowa brand nationally. So I think that's the beauty of the women's game."

Auriemma also said he supports the idea of all players being able to monetize their popularity while still in school.

"While they're in college, should they be able to benefit? Well, that's coming, right? That's what the NIL is. That these kids are gonna be able to benefit from what they do. Which is gonna cause a whole other sort of issue. That when you go recruit a kid, it's like ... 'Hi, Coach, this is my agent. So tell me what I'm getting.'

"Every school, depending on where you are, is gonna be able to offer a kid something different maybe. So now you become professional sports, where all the best free agents all go to the same teams. But that doesn't change my mind that kids should have a choice, and kids should be compensated."