Baylor’s Brittney Griner (42) celebrates after breaking the NCAA women’s career record for blocks (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
WACO, Texas (AP) — Brittney Griner arrived at Baylor known as the girl who could dunk. The 6-foot-8 Griner has obliged over the years with some rim-rattling highlights. Even in her last regular-season home game, she made a quick spin move around a Kansas State defender on the baseline for a one-handed slam. While the 14 career dunks are impressive — fun, too — Griner always wanted to be known for more than just slamming the ball. Add in all the blocks, points and championships, and she has indeed proven to be so much more in four seasons with the Lady Bears.
“A lot of people come up to me all the time and just tell me, just compliment me on my game, other than the dunks and the scoring,” she said. “Just how I find my teammates and just everything, how I move on the court. That let me know right there that, hey, I’m kind of getting away from the YouTube dunker girl.” Going into her final NCAA tournament, the defending national champion Lady Bears (32-1) are again the No. 1 overall seed. They have a nation’s-best 55-game winning streak at home, where they play their tourney opener Sunday night against SWAC champion Prairie View (17-14).
Griner is the Big 12 career scoring leader with 3,203 points, 190 short of the NCAA record with no more than six games left. She has a nearly 7 1/2-foot wingspan that contributes greatly to the record she really cherishes: 736 blocked shots, more than any other man or woman ever in the NCAA.
“She’s one of a kind,” Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said. “Look at the great run that Baylorhas made with the Final Four and national championship, and really, a second potential national championship on the line, her impact is hard to measure with words.”
The dunk against Kansas State was part of Griner’s Big 12-record 50 points in a game. Five days later in the Big 12 tournament, Griner had 19 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high nine assists in another game against the Wildcats.
“No matter what anybody says, she’s not great because of her size,” Patterson said. “She’s great because she continued to improve her repertoire and compete extraordinarily well.”
Her high school dunks made Griner a YouTube sensation, with as many as seven per game for Houston Nimitz. They even caught the attention of the likes of NBA superstar LeBron James, who met Griner when she was still in high school and has kept up with her since.
“She’s awesome,” James said. “It’s not like she’s just catching and laying it or dunking every time either. She’s shooting turnaround jumpers. She’s drop-stepping over her left shoulder, right shoulder, shooting jumpers. She’s got a fade-away jumper. And she’s dunking the ball, too. She’s great.”
Griner still hears plenty of jeers and taunts from opposing fans during games. And there is no shortage of insults and insinuations about her on social media.
Griner used to be bothered and angered by some of the things said and written about her. She shrugs it off now.
“I went on Twitter and typed in my name just to see what people were saying, and it was pretty funny,” Griner said. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re mad, (I) probably beat their team. They’re jealous. … In one ear, out the other, and I use it kind of as entertainment really,just to see some of the ignorant stuff that they will say.”
Or what will be made up, like the fake Twitter account somebody created representing the New Orleans Pelicans (the future name of the NBA’s Hornets) to congratulate Anthony Davis, the first overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, for “becoming engaged to Brittney Griner.”
That obviously wasn’t true, but it even surprised Griner, certain to be the WNBA’s first overall pick in the April 15 draft.
“It sounded legit how they said it and worded it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ Kind of made me believe. … I looked at my hand.”
The only ring she had on was the one signifying the Lady Bears’ national championship last year, going undefeated in the NCAA’s first 40-win season.
“Brittney Griner, after winning the national championship last year, should have erased any doubt in people’s minds as the greatest to ever play the game,” coach Kim Mulkey said.
It’s hard to believe that Griner was like any other freshman when she arrived, nervous and unsure what to expect. The Lady Bears went 27-10 her first season, and made it to the NCAA Final Four before a national semifinal loss to Connecticut. They are 106-4 since.
There was also that punch late in her freshman season after tangling under the basket with a Texas Tech player. After being slung back and lunging toward the baseline, Griner stopped, took two steps and delivered a roundabout right to Jordan Barncastle’s face.
Like so many of Griner’s dunks, the video of that punch went viral. She got an automatic one-game NCAA suspension, and Mulkey added a second. It’s something Griner still regrets.
But Griner is constantly pushed and shoved during games with opposing teams often putting two, three and sometimes even more defenders on her.
As fierce as Griner can be during games, including occasional scowls and chest pounding, she is fun-loving and often goofy off the court.
After her 50-point game on senior night, Griner pedaled around the court on a tricycle used for student races during timeouts of Baylor games. She rides an elongated skateboard on campus, where other students find out she’s just another college kid.
“She’s a great person. She talks to everybody. She’s always laughing and joking around,” saidBaylor men’s point guard Pierre Jackson, the Big 12′s leading scorer. “She just makes everybody smile.”
Jackson was a junior college transfer and admittedly “kind of star-struck” by her when he first got toBaylor two years ago. She introduced herself to Jackson to break the ice.
There are less than three weeks left in her college career that Griner realizes “just went so quick.” She will leave an indelible mark on the women’s game, even though she cringes when asked about her impact on the game.
“I just feel like I’m adding on,” she said. “I guess you can say I’m changing the defensive end … justbecause I’m so big and I move. I’m not stationary.
“I want people to look back and be like, ‘Dang, I remember when I played her back in college, she was a game-changer on the defensive end,” Griner added. “I want that to be my mark on the defensive end.”
article by Stephen Hawkins (AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report from Miami) via thegrio.com