By Daniel Wallace
Junior Lady Bear Brittney Griner is taking advantage of a great opportunity to play basketball in Europe with 25 professional athletes.
Griner was selected to play for the 2011 USA Basketball Women’s National Team, in a tournament that is currently taking place in Europe. The Baylor superstar is the only collegiate player on the team
Griner joins Baylor alumni Sophia Young are being coached by University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. He gave the Baylor women’s basketball program high praise, as two of his 26 players are associated with the university.
“Sophia Young has been a really good player since her days at Baylor, in the WNBA and overseas,” he said. “Her and Brittney are two of the few players invited to be at training camp. That says something about the way they are coached in Baylor’s program. Baylor has been good for quite some time now.”
The team arrived in Naples, Italy, on Tuesday to begin training camp for the five-game exhibition tour that goes through Oct. 9. It will open its 2011 European tour with two games in Naples, followed by a game in Valencia, Spain. The final two games will take place in the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Griner said she feels humbled that she was even asked to help represent country while playing the game she loves.
“I feel honored that I got asked to participate,” she said. “Just being able to wear the team’s jersey is an honor itself. I’m doing everything I can to learn quick and help out.”
Auriemma has only had one practice with Griner but said he can already tell she is unlike any other player he’s seen play the game.
“I think from a physical standpoint, you look at her and there really hasn’t been anyone I can remember that has had her combination of height and athletic ability,” he said. “That’s unlike anything any college coach has had the good fortune to be around. When she steps on the court, the whole complexion of what your team looks like changes.”
Young said she was taken back to her days at Baylor and her time spent under head coach Kim Mulkey, who she helped cut down the nets after winning the national championship in 2005. She said she has had to get used to Auriemma’s coaching style.
“His style of play is definitely different,” she said. “He’s definitely more serious. Get in there, get the job done, and get out of there. Obviously he knows what he is doing.”
Griner said she is excited to see her game improve while playing in the tournament and getting the international experience. She is looking forward to learning from Auriemma and adding that to what she has already learned from Mulkey.
“(He’s) not as animated as Coach Mulkey,” Griner said. “She will leap out of her blazer. He’s definitely intense, just different. He knows exactly what he’s talking about; just being able to be coached by him and Kim is just going to help my game out so much. I just got to try to get it all in while I’m here.”
Griner said she has enjoyed her time in Europe thus far and was excited to try some authentic Italian pizza. She has not, however, enjoyed the difference in driving technique in the foreign country, saying there are no rules on the road and that the cars are too little.
The Lady Bear will be living large, on top of the mountains in Italy, for the next two weeks.
Griner’s teammates include multiple WNBA stars, including. Young, who plays for the San Antonio Silver Stars.