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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Updated: January 15, 3:46 PM ET
Griner sets bar for girls' basketball players

By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy
ESPNRISE.com

The player who is today on the verge of revolutionizing women's basketball couldn't find the baseline as a freshman.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner's ability to dunk has made her a YouTube sensation.

Back then, Brittney Griner was light years from being the Internet sensation and basketball pioneer she is now. She simply wanted to get through each workout without her head exploding.

"The first couple of practices were kind of hard because I didn't know anything about basketball," says Griner, now a senior at Nimitz (Harris County, Ga.). "Coach would talk about passing lanes or running to the baseline and I was like, 'What is she talking about?'"

These days, all anybody in the women's game can talk about is Griner. The 6-foot-8 post is the nation's No. 1 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 and has committed to national power Baylor. She averaged 24.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and seven blocks per game last year.

Oh yeah. She can dunk, too.

You might have heard about that one. Or seen it yourself. One clip on YouTube, labeled simply "High School Girl Dunker," has been viewed more than 2.5 million times. She's been featured on "SportsCenter" and has become a mini-celebrity, posing for pictures and signing autographs for fans, parents and even opposing players following games.

Griner's game exceeds the hype, and she is widely considered a groundbreaking talent capable of taking the game to new heights, much like Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker before her. But it wasn't always that way.

Griner didn't play organized basketball until her freshman year. A volleyball and soccer player growing up, she entered Nimitz standing 6-foot-3 and knew she had to at least give basketball a chance.

"Up until then, I could not play ball at all," Griner says. "I don't know what happened."

For starters, she took advantage of a combination of size and natural athleticism very few are blessed with. Nimitz coach Debbie Jackson knew early on Griner would be a star someday. She just wasn't sure how quickly it would happen.

"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."

Griner's Favorites

TV Show: "CSI: Miami"
Movie: "American Gangster"
Actor: Denzel Washington
Actress: Halle Berry

Luckily for Nimitz, Griner had the work ethic to maximize her potential. She spent most of her freshman year on JV before moving up to varsity in time for the postseason. She got better every single day, and by the time her sophomore year rolled around, college letters were pouring in.

"Every practice, you could see her growing," Jackson says. "She was like a sponge absorbing the theory of the game as well as the skills of the game."

As her fundamentals continued to improve, Griner became determined to do something that would set her apart. She had the hops to dunk a volleyball early in her freshman year. By the time the season ended, she could just about dunk a basketball as well.

"I finally got one with one hand, but I barely got over the rim," Griner says. "I wanted to get over and above the rim and dunk like a boy."

So she spent that spring in the weight room with the football coach in order to strengthen her legs. As a 6-foot-4 sophomore, Griner dunked for the first time in a game situation, throwing down a one-handed slam during practice. The gym went quiet for a few seconds before everyone erupted in cheers.

Since then, she's only added to her repertoire -- jamming with two hands, finishing alley-oops off the backboard, posterizing hapless opponents.

"When she 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."

As a result, the legend of Brittney Griner grows seemingly by the day.

"On the first day of school, the freshmen come in and I hear them whispering to their friends, 'That's the YouTube girl,'" Griner says.

But don't let the highlights obscure the substance. Griner is also the triple-double girl -- she had 12 last season. In a playoff win over Westside last year, she was nearly the quadruple-double girl, recording 29 points, 20 rebounds, 13 blocks and nine assists.

"It's not just the dunking, even though that's pretty spectacular," Jackson says. "What most people don't realize is that she thinks about defense more than anything. She doesn't just block the ball, she sends it into the 10th row of the bleachers."

Offensively, Griner is double- or triple-teamed on nearly every possession. Coaches design zone defenses specifically to stop her, but it doesn't seem to be working. As a sophomore, she averaged 22.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game before upping those totals across the board last year.

She has a nice mid-range jumper and a variety of low-post moves that are nearly impossible to stop. The best defense is not letting her get touches in the first place.

"Once she catches the ball, you're in trouble," Jackson says.

The one Kryptonite in Superwoman's game is her free-throw shooting. Last year, Griner shot 65 percent from the floor and only 55 percent from the line. As a result, teams resorted to a Hit-a-Britt strategy, similar to the Hack-a-Shaq technique employed by NBA teams for so long.

Griner spent the entire offseason working as diligently on her foul shots as she used to on her dunking. It seemed to pay off in the summer, as Griner consistently knocked down free throws during the AAU season.

If that trend continues this winter, there will be no stopping her. And the one team that has lobbied for Griner's services more than any college program will keep on pressing.

"Our boys' coach always asks, 'Can I have Brittney for a few games?'" Jackson says.

Griner would love to try her hand at the boys' game, but she doesn't need to abandon the girls to build her legacy.

"She's definitely going to be a superstar," Jackson says. "She's going to change the women's game."

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