This coming Monday, WNBA President Laurel Richie will step to a microphone and in front of a prime time television audience and announce the worst-kept secret in basketball: “with the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, the Phoenix Mercury select, Brittney Griner, Baylor.”
Griner is one of three franchise cornerstone players in this year’s draft along with Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame and Elena Delle Donne of Delaware.
The Mercury received the honor of being the team to make the first selection, winning the Draft Lottery, held in September. The Mercury had the second-best odds of securing the top overall pick after a 7-27 record last season.
“If we got one, two or three (of the top three picks), we would be happy,” Mercury GM and head coach Corey Gaines said looking back.
They ended up with the first pick in one of the more anticipated WNBA drafts in recent memory.
The 6-foot-8 Griner is its grand prize.
The two-time National Player of the Year (Associated Press, Naismith) finished her four-year career at Baylor as the second all-time leading scorer in Division I women’s basketball history (3,269) while her 748 career blocks are the most of any women’s or men’s player.
“As the year went on, she was getting better and better,” said Gaines, who is also a player development coach for the Suns.
“She can alternate shots at the rim. She can rebound. She can move the floor,” he said. “You play her one-on-one with the new rules, it’s going to be tough because she can just shoot over people.”
And she can dunk over people, too.
Griner holds the NCAA career record for dunks during women’s competition with 18.
She also wins.
Griner helped lead Baylor to a 74-2 record in her final two seasons, including a 40-0 mark and the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in 2012.
But for all of her success, all of her accomplishments and all of her accolades, Griner is not being viewed as a franchise savior of the Mercury.
“I’ve got stars already,” said Gaines, who is entering his sixth season as head coach. “I got DeWanna (Bonner). I got ‘D’ (Diana Taurasi). I got Penny (Taylor) and I’ve got Candice (Dupree). I have players who are already accomplished, won championships, won gold so there’s not too much pressure on her.
“All (Griner) has to do is just come in and just play her game, rebound,” he continued. “There’s no pressure. It’s not like she has to come in and dominate. She can come in and just do what she does; and then, as it goes on, she’ll get a feel for the game. She’ll see what’s going on.”
Still, landing the first NCAA player to total 2,000 points and 500 blocked shots, gives Gaines another option. He though is refusing to allow himself to get caught up in the hype and attention that will come with drafting Griner.
“She still has to play,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a given thing. She’s got to play.”