SHOT BLOCKER–Baylor’s Brittney Griner (42) celebrates after breaking the NCAA women’s career record for blocks as Odyssey Sims (0) and Oklahoma’s Aaryn Ellenberg (3) stand by during the second half of a college basketball game in Waco Texas. Baylor was announced Monday, March 18, to join Connecticut, Stanford and Notre Dame as a No. 1 seed in the women’s tournament, marking the second straight season those four schools were the top seeds. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
by Stephen Hawkins
AP Basketball Writer
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 Baylor has 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 fadeaway 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 this year.
“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.”