Brittney Griner a little starstruck at camp
LAS VEGAS -- Brittney Griner sat in the bus Tuesday morning, riding to Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus and texting with one of her teammates back at Baylor. She looked around at the seats, occupied by Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings. Seimone Augustus had been on her flight.
"These are people I've looked up to and still look up to, and I'm here with them," Griner said, a little sheepishly. "It was kind of overwhelming. But I'm honored they asked me to come out here, and I'm trying to take it all in."
For the first time in a long time on the basketball court, Griner was a little nervous Tuesday as she moved through her first workout with the U.S. women's national team, which has gathered in Sin City for a three-day training camp.
It is an awe-inspiring collection of talent in UNLV's practice gym, 22 of the best women's players in the world taking their first collective step toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
"I wouldn't want to have to pick this team," said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, who made the quick trip from Tempe to watch the first day of camp. She was joined by numerous WNBA coaches and executives, just days from the openings of their own training camps.
Head coach Geno Auriemma has a floor loaded with worthy, skilled players. USA Basketball eventually will need to winnow the roster to a cool dozen for the Olympic tournament in London next summer. The women's national team hadn't been together since the 2010 world championships.
Griner -- the 6-foot-8 Texan who is a sensation in the women's college game because of her size, skill and ability to dunk -- received an invitation to join the U.S. team last year, after her star-making freshman season at Baylor. But she declined then because she didn't feel ready.
After Tuesday's workout, she knew more than ever that had been the right call. She is the only current collegiate player in camp.
"I'm glad I waited, because I kind of struggled today, and I really would have struggled if I had come last year," Griner said.
Griner talked with Auriemma before practice began.
"This is the first time she's really been in a scenario like this, where every time down the floor there's a big body that's hitting her," Auriemma said. "And the game is much, much quicker than she's used to playing in college. For the first day, you can see some of the things she is going to be able to do. I thought it was a really good first day for her.
"She was a little tentative and unsure," Auriemma added, "but it takes a while for even the best players to adjust to this."
Auriemma has two Olympic-ready centers in Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles. Candace Parker also could play the 5. But Griner is undoubtedly the future.
"None of them are as big, and none of them are as long as Brittney," Auriemma said. "Obviously, there's a great opportunity for her there."
In the literal sense, it is more difficult for Griner to stand out in this group than it is in college. While Griner is still the tallest player on the floor, there are a few others who can look her in the eye, not to mention knock her off the low block.
"They told me I faded away on a couple of shots," Griner said. "Don't do that out here. I wasn't being double-teamed and I'm not used to that. I'm used to having two or three people around me every time I get the ball. Here I can actually go up strong and I can go one-on-one. I'm glad, but I've got to get back into that mindset of going up strong."
Griner battled hard underneath the basket with veteran U.S. post players, such as the Chicago Sky's Fowles and former Connecticut star Charles. At one point, she hit the floor hard trying to get at a loose ball. During the sessions at the end of the scrimmage, she made a couple of shots, blocked one and moved well.
During a brief break, she stood with Catchings, Bird, Augustus and Kara Lawson. Catchings offered some advice.
"I remember my first year in the Olympic pool," Catchings said. "I was nervous. I know she's got to be feeling the same away, and she's just getting her feet wet. It was her first day and she did a great job and tomorrow she'll do better and the next day she'll do better. I'm sure she's going to be part of USA Basketball, if not this Olympics, definitely in the future."
Griner said she felt a little "out-of-shape" as she did battle. The college season ended six weeks ago.
"For my first day they said I did pretty good," Griner said. "But I hate being behind, so I'm going to keep trying."