Monday, December 28, 2009
You may not know of Brittney Griner, but you should
I'm going to be honest — until I picked up and leafed through my most recent Sports Illustrated, I had no idea who Brittney Griner is. So thank you, SI, for waking me up to one of sports' best stories, and one of its most overlooked.
In case you're like me, here's Brittney's quick bio: She's a freshman center for the Baylor women's basketball team. (Yeah, I know, big news!). But here's the kicker — she dunks basketballs with ease. She makes it look so simple, in fact, that it's not even a story when she throws one down.
As far back as I can remember, there hasn't been a women's basketball player like Griner. She's 6-foot-8, wears 18½-size kicks, has an 88-inch wingspan and dunks like it's nothing. Remember when Candace Parker dunked a few years back? It was huge news, making all the highlight shows. Wow! A woman had dunked.
For Griner, dunking is as simple as tying her shoes. She does it every day in practice. There are a handful of YouTube videos of Griner going through the motions as she throws down one-handed slams, two-handed slams and throws the ball off the backboard to herself for dunks. She executes them as if she's doing the dishes.
The whole story here is that, well, it's not a story. Rather, dunking is just a small part of Griner's game. Never before has a woman's player made dunking a basketball not a big deal. During her freshman season, instead, Griner has received more attention for her shot-blocking abilities. Through her first 12 games at Baylor, she is averaging a ridiculous 6.4 blocks per game. The NCAA record for a season is 5.7 bpg.
And Griner's presence on the floor has completely transformed opponents' game plans. They've tried every kind of zone against her and crowded her like no other player ever before, and on the other end she's affecting shots before they're even attempted. As a result, Baylor is ranked No. 5 and has just one loss (to Tennessee).
The best thing about this story is that it'll only get more deserved attention — Griner's got at least a few more years of college basketball. There probably aren't a lot more players with Griner's combination of size, length and athleticism coming up through the women's basketball ranks, so for now we should all just enjoy and cherish the unique abilities she brings to the court.
Griner may be just a freshman, but she's already proven that she's a special player who doesn't come along very often. Her defensive presence has even gotten her comparisons to some guy named Bill Russell. Too soon? Definitely (and comparing men's and women's players is kind of pointless to me). But that speaks to just how dominating and overwhelming her game is. And the Russell comparison also says this — observers of Griner's game can't think of a past women's player who matches up.
Did I mention that she dunks like it's akin to putting on socks? According to SI, she has six jams in her arsenal and is working on adding a windmill. No, she doesn't come close to matching the dunks of even unimpressive men dunkers, but given context, her nonchalent throw-downs are impressive and historic.
And, to many, unknown.
So spread the word. And if you're still unsure, watch her videos. Brittney Griner is in a class of her game. A women's hoops player like we've never seen before.