Brittney Griner Feeling Confident in Hopes for Second Olympics
The WNBA All-Star learned a lot in her first Olympic gold-medal go-round with USA Basketball.
Tom Carothers, Red Line Editorial
Brittney Griner has made quite a name for herself since first entering the national consciousness as a force in the paint at Baylor University.
The 6-foot-9 center from Houston, Texas, was the only player in NCAA history to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots, and she led the Lady Bears to the national title at the conclusion of her junior season in 2012. That season, she was named the named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player as well as the AP Player of the Year.
Following her senior season, the Phoenix Mercury scooped up her talents with the top overall pick of the 2013 WNBA Draft. The following year, after one season of playing internationally for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in the Chinese professional league, Griner joined Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi with UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian National League.
Playing professional basketball year-around, Griner has racked up accolades and honors both nationally and internationally. However, the award that shines brightest in the trophy case is the gold medal that was won at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Four years later, she’s donning the red, white and blue once again as the U.S. prepares to defend its gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games, a roster Griner hopes to be a part of when it is announced this spring. After her “rookie” Olympic turn in 2016, Griner looks forward to being a more dominant force in her second time around as the team prepares for Tokyo with this week’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.
In her first game back with the USA, a 88-69 win over host Serbia on Feb. 6, Griner had no trouble stepping back in her role with the team and produced 14 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
BG BACK 💪pic.twitter.com/QLUp4UmiDy— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) February 6, 2020
“I definitely feel more comfortable after my first Olympics,” she said. “Having that confidence now, I want to go a bit harder and put on a better show for the U.S.”
As the squad tunes up for the Tokyo Games, Griner said that she feels different with a possible second Olympics on the horizon.
“At first, I felt like I wanted to let other people do it and ease in myself, because I didn’t want to mess up,” she said. “But now I definitely feel more comfortable in my role and in what is expected of me. I just want to go out and attack.”
Griner said there is a comfortable feeling with the team, bred by the familiarity with her fellow USA Basketball athletes. Many on the U.S. roster know one another through either playing with or against one another professionally, both here and abroad. Griner believes that familiarity with one another helps the team succeed.
“It’s like getting the band back together,” she said. “It doesn’t take long for us to get our groove. We know each other’s game so well. I know where I can find them on the court.”
Griner, who turns 30 this year, says she feels a lot of pride when donning her nation’s colors to play the game she loves. The youngest of four siblings, her father Raymond was a U.S. Marine and served in Vietnam.
“It’s always good to wear this uniform,” she said. “It means a lot to me, as well as my dad and my family.”
With pride also comes expectation, and Griner realizes the gravity of playing for a team that has succeeded at the highest level for decades. The USA women enter the Olympic Qualifying Tournament as the No. 1-ranked team in the FIBA World Rankings and as winners of eight of the last nine Olympic gold medals and five of the last six FIBA World Cups. It is a run of excellence that Griner certainly does not want to see end on her watch.
“Our biggest goal is to win and keep up the standard that past players have set for the USA,” she said. “Anything short of that is a disappointment. We want to come in and handle business as we have in the past.”
The qualifying tournament runs from Feb. 6-9, after which time Griner will head back to finish up her professional season in Russia. After that, it’s back to the U.S. to begin her eighth WNBA season, a campaign that will be paused for the Summer Olympics.
“Sandy (Brondello, Mercury head coach) will give me a bit of time after I’m done in Russia before I start my WNBA season,” Griner said. “I’m able to go see my family, and that’s kind of like my vacation.”
The six-time WNBA All-Star and two-time league scoring champion did get more time off last autumn as the Mercury made an uncharacteristic early exit from the WNBA playoffs, losing a first-round elimination game to Chicago. It was an experience she is not eager to repeat.
“Our season ended way too early,” she said. “While it was nice to have a bit of extra time off, it was not nice having to sit and watch everyone else play.”
It is a near-unending series of basketball games and seasons for Griner, but she’d have it no other way.
“I’m pretty much a homebody, don’t really do much anymore when I’m not playing,” she said. “But it is nice and fun. If I wasn’t playing basketball, I wouldn’t get to see the world like I am able to do.”