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Griner changing the face of women's hoops

3/6/2009

All it takes is 78 seconds to glimpse into the future of
women's basketball.

It's all over YouTube. You can see it here. You've joined the millions of people who have taken part in the revolution. One
minute 18 seconds later, pick your jaw up off the floor.

What you've just witnessed is 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner of Nimitz
(Houston) throw it down every way imaginable -- one-handed,
two-handed, alley-oops off the backboard, you name it.

Griner is the nation's No. 1 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. But she's
a lot more than that. The Baylor recruit's combination of size, athleticism
and, yes, dunking ability makes her different from every other top female
basketball player to come along.

Don't believe it? Ask Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who has witnessed it all
while winning NCAA titles as a player and coach.

"I feel like I'm watching something I've never seen before in my life and
probably never will see again," she says.

Mulkey is not alone. Whether it's blocking 25 shots in a single game or
converting a windmill dunk during warm-ups (both of which she's already
done this season), Griner does something extraordinary almost every time
she takes the court.

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She averaged 24.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and seven blocks per game as
a junior while shooting 65 percent from the floor and earning airplay on
"SportsCenter" because of her dunking ability. Now a senior, Griner is a
threat to average a triple-double.

"She's definitely going to be a superstar," longtime Nimitz coach
Debbie Jackson says. "She's going to change the women's game."
Despite her own star turn on YouTube, Griner isn't featured in her
favorite web clip. She prefers a snippet of the player who, until now, had
been the world's best women's dunker.

Candace Parker's coming-out party was at the 2004 McDonald's All-American Game, where she won the dunk contest over a field that
included future NBA star (and dunk champion) Josh Smith. Parker had
been a star in women's hoop circles up until then, but that performance
took her national.

At the time, Griner was just a seventh-grader who was more serious
about soccer and volleyball than basketball. But something about Parker's
performance touched a nerve.

"I remember thinking, 'Wow, I want to do that,'" says Griner.

These days, Griner can do that and then some. While she has a long way
to go to reach Parker's level as an all-around player, Griner has already
surpassed her idol in one respect.

"When [Brittney] dunks, she dunks," Nimitz sophomore Chrishauna
Parker says. "It's not some fingertip, rim-touch thing. Candace Parker
dunks, but she doesn't dunk like Brittney does."

Still, when Griner is looking for extra motivation, she heads to her
computer and calls up Parker's dunk contest heroics.

The evolution of women dunkers started with Lisa Leslie, a 6-foot-5
center who in 2002 became the first WNBA player to throw down in a
game. Parker then took things to the next level as a 6-foot-4 perimeter
player who could dunk.

As someone who not only dunks but has won pretty much everything
imaginable at every level -- state titles in high school, national titles in
college, a gold medal at the Olympics and the WNBA MVP award as a
rookie -- Parker set the stage for a player like Griner to come along, just
like Leslie set the stage for Parker.

Meet Brittney Griner

School: Nimitz (Houston)
Nickname: Big B & Cookie Monster
Recruiting Profile

High Five

Griner out of McDonald's Game

"I look up to them a lot," Griner says. "Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker
set the foundation and now I'm just trying to add something on to what
they started."

The scary thing about Griner is she's just getting started herself. She
didn't play organized ball until the ninth grade, when Jackson pulled
her aside after a volleyball practice and encouraged her to join the
basketball team.

Griner may have been 6-foot-3 at the time with plenty of natural talent,
but her grasp of the game's finer points was sorely lacking. At her first few
practices, Griner would get confused whenever Jackson mentioned
rudimentary terms like "passing lane" or "baseline."

"You could tell from the first week of practice as a freshman she had the tools," Jackson says. "It was just developing those tools. You knew she
could be pretty special, but I didn't know how special."

We still don't know the ultimate answer to that. But we do know
Griner has become special enough for Mulkey to envision her as a huge
box-office draw at Baylor, somebody who could entice more students to
the women's game.

"I think she'll bring in a different audience," Mulkey says. "I think
Brittney will have the ability to bring students to the game who want to
say they saw a girl dunk."

And once they're in the building, the hope is that some fans will like
what they see and come back for more.

"I don't think our game will ever pass the males in athleticism by any
means -- the things they can do are outstanding," Parker says. "But our
game is outstanding in its own way and people that come to see us play
say they really enjoy watching us play."

How long college fans will get to see Griner play remains to be seen.
Though WNBA rules require players to be four years removed from
high school to enter the league, Griner hasn't ruled out challenging
that requirement.

"Me, my family and my coach will talk about it," Griner says. "If we feel
I'm ready, we might try to challenge it."

With WNBA salaries starting out so low (top picks earn only $44,000
per year), it would take a special circumstance for a potential high draft
pick to consider bucking the system.

Like Parker, who has contracts with adidas and Gatorade, Griner's
primary source of income would have to come off the court. And that's
why Marcus Jackson, Griner's AAU coach the past two years with DFW
Elite, thinks leaving school early is a possibility for a player as exciting as
the Nimitz phenom.

"She's going to be making a lot of money in endorsements," says
Jackson, whose daughter, Tiffany, plays in the WNBA while former DFW
stars like McDonald's All-Americans Brooklyn Pope (Rutgers) and Destini
Hughes (LSU) dot college rosters.

The fact that Griner's early entry is even being discussed shows how
much she's changed the game already and how dominant she can be. As
it continues to grow with Griner at the forefront, there will be other
incredible talents who do previously unthinkable things. From Lisa Leslie
to Chamique Holdsclaw to Diana Taurasi to Candace Parker to Brittney
Griner, the women's game keeps evolving. But Mulkey cautions against
expecting another Griner any time soon.

"There will always be great players, but what we may never see again
is a 6-8 player with that kind of athleticism," Mulkey says.

So whether it's in person or on YouTube, make sure to pay attention to
Griner. Because the "High School Girl Dunker" is on the scene and the
women's game will never be the same.

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.