Choosing Griner was a slam dunk

Brittney Griner will give the East squad fits in the McDonald's All-American game. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

In 1990, I attended a commercial shoot of then-NBA rookie Gary Payton for Nike. The director of the spot asked the 6-foot-4 Payton to dunk a few times. Many, many attempts later, Payton, who became one of the NBA's greatest players, finished without performing any successfully.

This past spring, I was doing my own video shoot with Brittney Griner, a senior girls' basketball player at Nimitz High School in Houston. I, of course, wanted her to dunk a few times. About 10 minutes and a dozen different dunks (not total of dunks, but total number of different dunks) later, Griner showed no signs of having to, or wanting to, stop dunking. She is 6 feet 8 and about to change her sport.

It required nearly 20 years for that hoops evolution process to take place, but consider the current pace. Five years ago in Oklahoma City, a schoolgirl from Naperville, Ill., named Candace Parker shook the game of basketball to its roots by winning the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's High School All-American Game. The five other competitors were boys.

Griner, whose selection to the 2009 McDonald's Game was announced Wednesday night, told ESPN HoopGurlz earlier this season that she would sign up for the dunk competition and was already developing a program for it. "I think I can win it," she said.

Even if she does not, the sunshine and glitter of Miami will be the perfect setting to cast the Griner's game in a new light. The question won't be whether she can perform dunks, but how legitimately she can match or exceed her male competition during the Powerade Jam Fest on March 30. In 2004, Parker had dunked twice in high school games before winning her historic title; Griner has dunked about twice a game so far this season.

Dunking may be the reason that fans of high school basketball know Griner, but it's not even the main reason many experts project her to be the kind of game-changing force Parker has become. She has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, but her national-record 25 blocks in November were more indicative of the defensive force she'll likely be at Baylor next season.

Griner will be paired on the West squad with another tremendous shot-blocker, Gennifer Brandon of Sylmar, Calif., and two of the best high school perimeter defenders in recent years in Eliza Pierre of Pasadena, Calif., and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt of Alexandria, Va. The East squad will be paced by No. 2 prospect Kelsey Bone from Houston and top point guard Skylar Diggins, setting the stage for a tremendous matchup of defensive versus offensive versatility.

Glenn Nelson


Gennifer Brandon, 6-3, F, Chatsworth High School (Sylmar, Calif.) -- California
China Crosby, 5-5, G, Manhattan Center for Science & Math (Bronx, N.Y.) -- Virginia
Brittney Griner, 6-8, C, Nimitz Senior High School (Houston) -- Baylor
Tayler Hill, 5-10, G, South High School (Minneapolis) -- Undecided
Stephanie Holzer, 6-4, C, Cardinal O'Hara High School (Newton Square, Pa.) -- Vanderbilt
Christina Marinacci, 6-2, F, Foothill High School (Santa Ana, Calif.) -- USC
Monique Oliver, 6-2, C, Polytechnic High School (Long Beach, Calif.) -- USC
Eliza Pierre, 5-8, G, John Muir High School (Pasadena, Calif.) -- California
Tierra Rogers, 5-11, F, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) -- California
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, 6-0, G, T.C. Williams High School (Alexandria, Va.) -- North Carolina
Taber Spani, 6-1, G, Metro Academy (Lee's Summit, Mo.) -- Tennessee
DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, F, Pinole Valley High School (Richmond, Calif.) -- California

Head coach: Dave Power, Fenwick High School (Oak Park, Ill.)
Assistant: Dale Heidloff, Fenwick High School (Oak Park, Ill.)
Assistant: Derril Kipp, Maine West High School (Des Plaines, Ill.)

Brandon arguably is the most athletic player in this class with the speed to fly out on the break and the leaping ability to block shots like a center. She's ranked No. 30 and is one of the biggest impact players in the class defensively.

Crosby is one of the nation's elite point guards and elite overall players based on her No. 14 ranking. The Bronx native is one of the craftiest ball handlers in the country and complements her dribble-drive skills with a nice 3-point shot.

Griner is simply a game-changer. She's the top-ranked senior, and the sky's the limit.

Hill hasn't yet made her college choice, but her decision to be a dominant scoring guard was made long ago. The Minneapolis star combines a dynamite first step with 3-point range, which forces defenders to pick their poison.

At 6-4, Holzer is one of the most complete post players in the country. She is ranked as the No. 90 prospect in the class because of her impeccable footwork, good touch, a physical style and, best of all, a high basketball IQ.

Marinacci is one of the most versatile forwards in the country with a knack for scoring from midrange. The Orange County (Calif.) star at Foothill High School is able to create her own shots off the dribble or find scoring from within an offense.

Oliver made a name for herself long before transferring to West Coast powerhouse Long Beach Poly. The No. 6-ranked senior is a double-double machine with low-box scoring, good face-up skills and a rebounding tenacity.

Pierre, of Pasadena, Calif., showed there's more to being an elite player than scoring. The 5-7 point guard, ranked No. 22, is the most dominant perimeter defender in the class.

Rogers led Sacred Heart to an undefeated season as a junior despite overcoming tragedy in her life. She is a spirited defender who is a terrific scorer in the open court. Her spin move is instant offense, and very few play both ends as hard as she does.

Ruffin-Pratt battled injury this past summer but showed her toughness throughout. The T.C. Williams standout can dominate her opponent and loves doing so, especially defensively. She impacts the game on both ends of the floor.

Spani is a left-handed wing ranked No. 13 in the class. She is one of the biggest long-range threats in the country. She has ice in her veins, wants to take the big shots and uses her strong frame and impeccable footwork to create shots.

Stallworth has been a standout at Pinole Valley High School and is one of the top forwards in the country. She is ranked No. 22 in the class because she has good athleticism for the position and an aggressive style around the basket.

Chris Hansen


Kelsey Bone, 6-5, C, John Foster Dulles High School (Stafford, Texas) -- Undecided
Skylar Diggins, 5-9, G, Washington High School (South Bend, Ind.) -- Notre Dame
Kelly Faris, 5-11, G, Heritage Christian School (Plainfield, Ind.) -- Connecticut
Jasmine Hassell, 6-2, F, Wilson Central High School (Lebanon, Tenn.) -- Georgia
Cokie Reed, 6-4, C, Midway High School (Hewitt, Texas) -- Texas
Ta'Shauna Rodgers, 5-11, G, King's Fork High School (Suffolk, Va.) -- Georgetown
Morgan Stroman, 6-2, F, Lower Richland High School (Hopkins, S.C.) -- Miami
Dara Taylor, 5-7, G, Caravel Academy (Wilmington, Del.) -- Maryland
Joslyn Tinkle, 6-3, F, Big Sky High School (Missoula, Mont.) -- Stanford
Markel Walker, 6-2, F, Pittsburgh Schenley High School (Pittsburgh) -- UCLA
Erica Wheeler, 5-8, G, Parkway Academy (Miami) -- Rutgers
Destiny Williams, 6-3, C, Benton Harbor High School (Benton Harbor, Mich.) -- Illinois

Head coach: Abby Ward, South Broward High School (Hollywood, Fla.)
Assistant: Jermaine Hollis, South Broward High School (Hollywood, Fla.)
Assistant: Patricia James, Boyd H. Anderson High School (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.)

Bone has the combination of size, strength, quickness and speed to be an elite player in any class. Her intimidating defensive presence is complemented by an ever-improving and diverse offensive arsenal.

Diggins plays the point with instincts and maturity well beyond the experience of a high school senior. She has the ability to create and finish her own shots as well as set up her teammates like few other players in the 2009 class.

Faris defines fundamentals, versatility and effectiveness on the perimeter. Her game is complete with the ability to shoot the ball deep, score off the drive or make the smart pass.

Physical and aggressive, Hassell has the ability to be a force at both ends of the floor. Her defense and rebounding combine with an evolving and attacking offensive game that has her well suited for the next level.

It's been said that Reed is just scratching the surface of her potential, but that scratch is getting pretty deep. Her tremendous size, athleticism and work ethic have redefined her tremendous potential.

Rodgers brings speed and power to the wing, which translates into dynamic offensive results. Her aggressive style allows her to create off the dribble, and she can shoot the pull-up with great elevation.

With good size and athleticism on the wing, Stroman is a difficult matchup for most defenders. She slashes with a smooth, quick set of skills and has the ability to finish in traffic.

Taylor's vision as well as her movement with and without the ball almost always lead to something good happening. She's an instinctual and lightning-quick point who can make things happen off the dribble, from an aggressive cut or with her solid passing skills.

The ability to score effectively around the rim, from the midrange and on the perimeter, makes Tinkle a post defender's worst nightmare. She can create and develop her own looks because of her patience and impressive court intelligence.

Walker's size and athleticism make her high-flying and attacking game that much more impressive. Her aggressive approach on both ends of the floor and willingness to get on the glass demonstrate a game well suited for the college level and beyond.

The crossover that Wheeler embarrasses defenders with is just one of the many tools in her offensive arsenal. Her combination of speed, quickness and one-on-one skills make her a challenging assignment for opposing backcourts.

Williams can play inside or out and has the physical and basketball tools to do both at any level. She has the first step and slashing moves of a guard to go with the size and build of an explosive, athletic forward. She's the proverbial complete package.

Mark Lewis

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at mark@hoopgurlz.com.

Chris Hansen covers girls' high-school basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high-school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.