DENVER – Brittney Griner is honored to be the face of women's college basketball, but she isn't ready to say she has revolutionized the game. In fact, she shies away from putting herself above any of the other great players that come to mind when thinking of women's basketball.
"[Coach Kim Mulkey] said and other people said that I'm changing it, and I kind of disagree on that," Griner said. "I don't feel like I'm changing the game; I just feel like I'm adding on to it. Other great players before me added on to the game. I'm just adding on and I know somebody else is going to come along in the next generation, and it's going to keep adding."
Griner might not feel like she's changing the game, but there's no doubt that she has from the way opponents approach her to the way many casual fans now view women's college basketball. Griner isn't the first woman to block a shot or even to dunk a basketball, but she's the first to be so dominant at her position that her game actually draws realistic comparisons to her male counterparts.
"She has a presence in the paint on the defensive end of the floor like none other," Mulkey said. "I've played with 6-9. I've watched 6-9 dunk the ball. … Brittney Griner's presence on the defensive end of the floor separates her from any player that has ever played the game."
Griner agrees that she has seen an increase in the type of fans that approach her for autographs. It's not just women or women's basketball fans; it's fans of the men's game and general people who might have caught her latest dunk on television during the highlights.
"She's brought a lot more spectators to the game just with everything she's done – the dunks and the blocks," Notre Dame forward Devereaux Peters said. "She's completely changed women's basketball.
"I think she makes the game more fun. [Average fans] are looking for those spectacular plays, and a lot of times women's basketball is about fundamentals whereas men's basketball is all about the dunks and the huge blocks and the athletic plays. I think she brings a lot more of that to the game, and she brings a lot more than normal spectators to our game."
It's clear Griner likes to put on a show. During warm-ups prior to Sunday's semifinal against Stanford, Griner was dunking the basketball to the oohs and aahs of the crowd. She put on a similar spectacle during the Lady Bears' open practice Saturday, which nearly drew a full house. And it would be one thing if Griner were just a one-trick pony, a player who dunks, blocks and doesn't have a whole lot more to offer her team. But the fact that her 6-8 frame is nimble enough to dribble the ball up court, take on a defender and even do a backflip makes her such a rare specimen in the women's game.
"She's a phenomenal player," Notre Dame forward Brittany Mallory said. "She's 6-8 and she can shoot free throw jumpers and hit her free throws and go up and dunk. It's great to see her get dunks in the game. I wish I was that tall and could dunk the ball. She brings a lot; she's brought a lot of attention to the game. She does a lot for the team, and she's not about herself. She's about the team, and I think that's a great characteristic about her."
Being the face of the game isn't something Griner asked for, and on occasion she has trouble reconciling it with just wanting to be an ordinary woman who plays basketball.
"I want some stuff to stay private," she said.
But she knows her role in the game is important, and so do the rest of the players and coaches who continue to champion her play even though they might be facing her the next night. She singlehandedly is growing the sport, changing its perception and bringing a respect to women's basketball that has been sorely missing.
"This kid has had so much thrown at her that I wonder sometimes if she goes: Is it really worth it to keep putting up with all this?" Mulkey said. "But she never does. She never does."
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- Brittney Griner