Griner: A big kid in a hoops candy store
Baylor's Brittney Griner has had a tough few weeks.
Yes, she's at the Final Four, and no, the tough weeks are not because of the punch she threw against Texas Tech during the regular season or the ensuing two-game suspension. Those incidents weren't tough, they were excruciating.
They've been tough because her "SpongeBob Square Pants" backpack broke. While pondering this, the 6-foot-8 freshman frowns.
"I guess it wasn't made for college books," she shrugged.
Aside from her big-game blocks, which put her in a category nearly by herself, Griner really is just a kid with a fun streak still running on a kindergarten level. She collects Pez dispensers, would give Lamar Odom a run for his money in the candy-eating category and still asks her mother to put something fun to play with under the Christmas tree.
"I'm still waiting for a train," she joked. "That's what I've always wanted, but I just haven't gotten it yet."
On Sunday, Griner will step onto her sport's biggest stage, playing in the national semifinals against Connecticut. She will be crunched and smashed and batted around like a beach ball. It comes with the territory for a tall player with arms long enough to wrap around her niece and nephew at the same time.
She will be going up against first-team All-American and Player of the Year Tina Charles. Griner knows what that means.
So which one of the two should be intimidated?
"Actually it should be the refs," Griner said. "Two big post players going at it in the paint."
Griner, who slept all the way on the bus ride to San Antonio, has been run through the media gauntlet and has signed autographs galore. It's heady stuff for any player who makes it to this level, especially as a freshman.
"Either they're overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they're about to do, or they have no frame of reference, look around and say, 'What's the big deal?'" UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Odds are Griner will pick the latter.
Shelley Smith is an ESPN correspondent based in Los Angeles.