Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Open Letter to Brittney Griner: The Most Dominant Player in College Hoops

Dear Brittney,

After watching you work last night in your final home game at Baylor to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, I only have one thing to say. I'm sorry I doubted you four years ago coming out of high school and I'm glad that I've come around to appreciating your growth as a senior.

See back then, I saw footage of you dunking. A tall girl with long arms that folks had high praise. Having been used to seeing Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and other great players, I was amazed at your height but I wondered about your strength. I didn't think you'd get the chance to develop into more than just a young lady who could dunk.

Forgive me for my bias though. I've seen tall kids dominate in high school only to see them struggle in college because height can only go so far. So I was skeptical. But you began to prove me wrong as a freshman.

You set the single-season record for blocks in a season that year. Nobody had an answer for you and it was clear you'd be a defensive stalwart while your offensive game came around. Sadly, most folks remember you throwing a punch that broke Jordan Barncastle's nose and they denigrated you as a thug or a wild player. Nevermind that it was a great teaching moment that you grew from thanks to your excellent coach Kim Mulkey.

Last year, I saw you lead Baylor to a 40-0 record and the national title. You weren't just a tall girl who could dunk anymore. You dominated the post with great moves and became a student of shotblocking. You became an intimidator that was good for 23.2 ppg, 9.5 boards and just over five blocks per game. Heck, you had more blocks than any other Division I girls team!

But I can't forget your dunks. Those dunks became a weapon. I've seen Candace Parker, Michelle Snow and Lisa Leslie dunk on occasion but you use it the way it was meant to be. Intimidation. Awe-inspiring. You've turned it from a one-time sight into part of your arsenal. 18 dunks (for now) in your career means it's no gimmick.

This year has been almost like a victory lap as you've left no doubt how great you are. A 50-point game earlier this month left me in awe. Tuesday, you put up 33 points, 22 rebounds, four blocks, three dunks and four dimes. That's a stat line that only five other players have done in MEN's college basketball. I nearly pulled over when my friend texted me that and it convinced me that we aren't appreciating you as much as we should.

You've had to hear immature jokes about your sexuality and how your voice sounds. It's a reminder that most folks still can't get over dealing with a female athlete who's not known for their looks.  Folks bringing up hurtful stereotypes have made me sad because they don't appreciate how you inspire young women and men to be great even if they don't fit a certain image.

I watched Candace win 2 titles, Taurasi win 3, Maya Moore win 2 (including beating you in the 2010 Final Four) and Chamique Holdsclaw dominate at Tennessee and get on the cover of SLAM. I know how much Cheryl Miller dominated college hoops so much in the 80's, Sports Illustrated called her the best player (male or female) in the country. You have done everything to match them on the court in my opinion.

You'll finish college as the No. 2 scorer in women's history and the No. 1 shotblocker in NCAA history (men's or women's). You're a 2-way player who can play in the post as well as defend. You should be the 3rd 4-time AP 1st Team All-American but folks were biased because of that punch and put you on the 2nd team your freshman year.

You made the women's game a vertical one and demanded people give you respect as a player, not an anomaly. You're the greatest athlete in Baylor history - even more than your boy Robert Griffin III. Along with Elena Delle Donne, who I've also admired since she was a HS senior, have made the women's game fun to watch the last two years and I can't wait to see you two and Skylar Diggins in the WNBA.

More importantly, you proved to me that you could evolve as a player. It's a testament to your coaches and your willingness to get better and more unstoppable. Watching you must have been what it was like to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in college or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell in the pros.

Take this last statement to heart. Without a doubt, you have been the most dominant player (men's or women's) in college basketball over the last two years. Besides Miller and Taurasi, there may not be anybody better who's played in the women's game. And I'll be rooting for you to get that second ring.

Sincerely, Evan.

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