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The Right Stuff

Griner possesses ability to star at Baylor, but there's more to her

November 08, 2009|Stephen Hawkins

WACO, TEXAS — The dunks in high school made Brittney Griner a YouTube sensation, the 6-foot-8 girl who threw down as many as seven slams in a game.

Unlike the handful of women who have dunked before, dunking is a regular part of Griner's game. Instead of barely clearing the rim, she slams one-handed, with both hands and has other varieties in her repertoire.

Yet, there is so much more to the Baylor freshman.

A nearly 71/2-foot wingspan makes Griner an imposing presence in the post, able to block shots and alter others.

"Brittney is about to be the most dominant college player that's been in the college game in a long time. . . . She's just going to change the game," said LSU coach Van Chancellor, who first saw Griner as a ninth-grader in Houston when he was coaching the WNBA's Comets.

"It's not just the dunks. Those are two points. She'll lead the nation in blocked shots for four years," Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said. "That changes what you want to do. I've seen her in the post and block a 3-pointer."

Even though Griner hasn't played a game for seventh-ranked Baylor, it is already clear that she could have an impact on women's basketball like few players before her.

Despite losing four starters -- their top scorers -- from a 29-win team, and with only one senior and five freshmen on their roster, the Lady Bears have been tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, a league with three other Top 25 teams. Griner even received a vote for the Associated Press' preseason women's All-America team.

"I hope that she has the impact that we all think that she will," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "She does have skills and athleticism like none I've ever coached. . . . I hope that all those predictions come true."

But that will take time, Mulkey emphasized, a reminder that Griner is only a freshman and just turned 19 last month.

"I don't want her to feel like she has to do that," Mulkey said. "I want it to just happen for her."

Griner is confident about being able to win a championship at Baylor, something she never experienced in high school. She doesn't seem overwhelmed by all the expectations and the talk of how much she can change the game.

"I really don't feel like I'm just changing it. I just feel like I'm adding on to it. Everybody that comes through does something different," she said. "I'm just doing something a little bit different that somebody couldn't do."

Amazingly, Griner didn't play organized basketball until she was in ninth grade after playing volleyball and soccer. Already about 6-4 by then, she learned to dunk by the end of her sophomore season at Houston's Nimitz High.

In 32 games as a prep senior, Griner had 52 dunks and averaged nearly 12 blocks a game. She had seven dunks in one game; set a national record with 25 blocked shots in another game; then had 36 points, 15 rebounds, 15 blocks and 10 assists in another.

Griner insists that if she had to chose, she'd pick shot blocking over dunking. Really.

"Oh yeah, defense is my favorite part of the game," she said. "If I block it, my team will get it and put it in. So I'll block it."

Only six women have dunked in a college game for a total of 15 dunks. The first was 25 years ago by Georgeann Wells of West Virginia and the last was in February 2008 by Candace Parker, the only woman with two in one game and a record seven in her career at Tennessee.

The Lady Bears open the regular season Nov. 15 at eighth-ranked Tennessee, which might have been Griner's top college choice had she not wanted to stay close to home.

"I watched Brittney play quite a bit. She's a game-changer in the paint at 6-8. She can come out of the paint, block shots and knock them to half court," Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt said. "We have to be very mindful of playing inside-out and just not being intimidated."

Still, Griner knows she has a long way to go. Ask about her talent and she calls it "pretty raw. I'm still learning, learning something new every day."

With that attitude she should certainly be able to prove something else she wants to in college.

"There's a lot more to me than just dunking. I'm not just the YouTube girl like everybody called me," Griner said. "It's real important to me to let people know there's more to me."

--

Hawkins writes for the Associated Press.

AP writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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