By Stephen Hawkins
WACO — Brittney Griner watched the Olympics and wished she was there. Thanks to the WNBA draft lottery, she might know where she’s going.
Before Rio in 2016, or even getting started in the pros next summer, there is still the senior season with the Lady Bears for the fun-loving All-American who can dunk and broke her right wrist in a longboarding accident this summer. Baylor is coming off the
first 40-win season and returns every starter from its undefeated national championship team.
The accident on the elongated skateboard came after Griner had already removed herself from consideration for the 12th and final spot on the U.S. women’s basketball team that won gold at the London Olympics. She almost certainly would have been part of the team, but didn’t participate because of summer school classes she had to take and the ill health of her mother.
“She’s OK. Ups and downs, but she’s all right,” Griner said, but not wanting to elaborate on her mother’s health during an interview with The Associated Press.
Griner said she made the right choice to bypass the Olympics, even though she wished while watching the games that she was playing. The 6-foot-8 Griner was with USA Basketball in Europe last fall, when she averaged 12.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.
“It was exciting just watching them,” Griner said. “It’s a great team, basically all my role models are on that team. It was just amazing knowing that I was with them for a little bit overseas. … Just to see them out there playing hard, playing strong, and bringing the gold home, it was good.”
When the WNBA draft lottery was held last month, the Phoenix Mercury won the No. 1 overall pick and the chance to select the dominating post player next spring before Chicago chooses second and Tulsa third.
Griner watched the draft lottery with some friends, and she described them more excited than she was about her potential future destination.
“I’ve still got a year here and I’m looking forward to my year here,” said Griner, who told her friends one other thing that night: “They didn’t say they were picking me. They just got the No. 1 pick.”
Through her first three seasons at Baylor, Griner has averaged 21.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game with a Big 12-record 594 blocked shots. She is the first NCAA player with 2,000 career points and 500 blocked shots.
In the NCAA tournament last season, Griner dunked twice. That matched Candace Parker for most dunks by a woman in NCAA tournament play and during a college career (seven).
After having to wear a cast this summer because of the broken radius bone, Griner’s wrist was fully healed before the Lady Bears started practicing this month. Griner worked to get stronger and faster this summer, and also to take on coach Kim Mulkey’s challenge for her to be a better offensive rebounder.
Griner didn’t fall off the longboard, but rather jumped off it when she was going down a ramp and realized she wouldn’t be able to make a turn. She got hurt after jumping off, then reaching out to catch herself against the wall.
“I was trying to save myself from falling off, but I still broke my arm,” Griner said.
Despite that accident, Mulkey hasn’t prohibited Griner from riding her longboard.
“Brittney’s pretty smart about it. She was doing a maneuver and saw that she was not going to make that turn,” Mulkey said. “She has her longboard, she’s pretty good at it. If I take everything away, I’d have to take a mo-ped away from a kid, I’d have to take skydiving away, snow skiing away. Which one do you take away? So just let them be college athletes. They’re not pro athletes.”
Skydiving, by the way, is still on Griner’s to-do list.
Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots in Baylor’s 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the national championship game in April. She said she has watched that game twice, the first time being an overnight ESPN replay with teammates in a Denver hotel hours after the game.
The other time was with a more critical eye.
“The first time, I was just in shock that we did it,” Griner said. “Then the second time, I was like, “Ooh, wish we would have done that better, wish we could have did that better, I could have dunked that time.’ I was just critiquing myself.”