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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Griner Will Change Games, but Not the Game Itself

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Photo Credit: Original Artwork Courtesy istockphoto.com©

By Clay Kallam

Brittney Griner is a game-changer – but she won’t change the game.

The semantic difference is this: The athletic 6-7 Griner will have an enormous impact every time she steps on the court, and opponents will have to make substantial adjustments to account for her skills and physical gifts; but since there’s only one of her, she won’t shift the course of the sport into previously uncharted waters.

Though most who are reading this have seen some videos of Griner dunking, the first focused opportunity for the bulk of fans to get a close look at her is Sunday, when Baylor plays Tennessee on ESPN2 (5 p.m. Eastern time). The game itself is unlikely to be a thing of beauty, which is one reason why the DVR is a wonderful invention. The Cowboys at Lambeau or the Eagles at San Diego will probably be more entertaining, but a taped, fast-forward rewind of an undoubtedly sloppy first game of the season will be a perfect way to get to check out the sport’s latest wunderkind.

And what viewers will see is a long, 6-7 post player who’s very athletic for her size. If she were 5-7, she still probably would have been a pretty good high school varsity player, but add those 12 inches, and all of a sudden what Al McGuire used to call an aircraft carrier has just floated onto the court. And “float” is the operative word, as Griner plays further above the floor than any woman before her, and most likely than any woman for some time to come.

Yes, this will result in dunks, but far more important for Kim Mulkey and Baylor, it also means there are no easy layups for opponents. In fact, there may be no layups at all, for Griner is blessed with the shotblocking knack, an inexplicable gift that some players have and others don’t. Diana Taurasi, for example, has it, and even though she’s barely over six feet, she’s a better shotblocker than most players four inches taller. Why? Timing, anticipation, quickness and length are all part of the equation, but really it just comes down to the fact that Taurasi has the knack.

So does Griner, but with a much longer wingspan and much longer strides. I saw her during the summer of 2008, and twice she did something I’d never seen before – I would have had trouble trusting my vision if she’d only done it once, but when she repeated it, I immediately became a believer.

Here’s the scene: It’s a summer league game between two good club teams. Griner, on defense, is in the lane. A good three-point shooter has the ball at the three-point line. The shooter is unguarded, and so loads up for her money shot – but Griner takes one long step out of the lane, rises up and blocks the shot, and blocks it well after it’s left the shooter’s hand. In other words, Griner has let the ball travel a good six feet up and out of the shooter’s hand, and still has the length, timing and coordination to return the shot to sender.

Will Griner do this in college? Probably not, because the three-point shooters are a little taller and have a quicker release, but it’s not as if she did this against some JV girl either. This was a good high school player with a wide-open three and no defender within 10 feet of her when she started her shooting motion. And this kind of a play is something none of us has ever seen before.

Of course, Griner is a tremendous shot-blocker in the paint as well, and though it’s possible to get shots over her, it’s certainly not easy – and more important, it demands that every shooter be conscious of Griner at every minute, which all by itself is enough to shrink shooting percentages by a significant amount. It’s not even that Griner will alter a very high percentage of close-in shots, which of course she will, but rather than shooters will alter their shots in anticipation of her arrival.

This uncanny combination of size, athleticism and the shot-blocking knack makes Griner a one-of-a-kind player who could help a lot of WNBA teams right now, and probably the U.S. National Team as well. But imagine what happens when Griner, who didn’t start playing the game until she was a freshman in high school and didn’t really get high-level coaching until she was a sophomore, starts to add offense. No one is going to block her shot and, unlike so many slender centers, she actually likes contact.

As time goes on, then, Griner will become more and more of a force (barring disaster, of course), and Baylor’s opponents will have fewer and fewer options. But unless there are some other 6-7 girls out there who no one knows about, all the non-Baylor games are going to proceed much as before. Baylor’s games will change, that’s for sure, but no one else’s.


Originally published Sat, November 14, 2009

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.