- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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What a heady couple of months it has been for Brittney Griner.
She began her professional basketball career with a major media tour, made a no-nonsense but moving statement about her sexuality and burst onto the WNBA stage with a nationally televised, two-dunk effort in the Phoenix Mercury's 2013 season debut.
She's done hundreds of interviews, appeared on Conan O'Brien's late-night show to talk basketball and bacon, won an ESPY as the Best College Female Athlete and had her jersey become the biggest seller in the league. Head-spinning stuff.
What she hasn't done is stay healthy enough to remain on the floor consistently. For the first time in her career, Griner is dealing with an injury that's keeping her from playing.
The left knee sprain she sustained in early June is continuing to plague her. Griner has missed five games, and her minutes have been limited in others. But she is averaging 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds and leads the league with 2.8 blocks per game.
But her injury might jeopardize her ability to play in Saturday's All-Star Game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. Griner was voted as a starter for the Western Conference by the fans.
"I'm not sure yet if I can play. We are taking it day by day," Griner said Monday, the day before the Mercury traveled to Minnesota to play their second straight game against the Lynx, the team with the league's best record.
"I have never had to sit out before," she added. "I'm just working on getting the knee better and getting back out there for the second half of the season. I'd rather be healthy for the second half."
Still, Griner said she is looking forward to going to Connecticut to participate in All-Star weekend.
"It's definitely going to be a great game with all of these amazing athletes together," Griner said. "I'm hoping I get to play so I can be part of that. But being able to even be there as a rookie ... it's an honor, and I'm definitely thankful for the fans who voted for me."
Griner said she is learning from the veterans on her team, perhaps most of all from superstar guard Diana Taurasi, who can relate to Griner's stardom in a way that few players in the league can.
"She talks to me every day," Griner said.
Not so much the heart-to-hearts one might imagine but a constant chatter on the practice court and on game day, lessons that come fast for the 6-foot-8 youngster.
Griner thinks back to that first game on Memorial Day, when she dunked twice in a loss to Chicago. She addressed the huge media grouping waiting for her outside the locker room after her first game as a pro and then retreated to her disappointment behind closed doors.
"Diana came up to me and told me to be patient," Griner said. "I was upset about it. She said, 'Hey, that's basketball. It's a game of runs.'"
Griner has watched Taurasi, the league's leading scorer, carefully this season, from the practice court to her game-day routine.
"Just being around her, she doesn't have to tell me something for me to get it," Griner said. "I see her go all out every day, all the extra work she does before a practice, after a practice, and that's enough advice right there."
Griner said she knew the WNBA game would be faster and more physical. She believes she's handled that well.
"We are running a lot of new things, and I'm learning," she said. "Off the court, I'm used to the interviews and the appearances. Even with all that, I have more time on my hands that I did in college. That's probably the biggest perk."
Her biggest adjustments have come off the court.
"It's getting used to the travel," Griner said. "In college, you would go and come back right after the game. Now we have weeklong road trips that last eight or nine days and some quick turnarounds."
Griner said she is learning to manage her time and take care of her body.
"It's about getting the rest you need, especially with all the freedom we have," she said. "It's not like we have team meals or someone is telling us to eat and handing us per diem and telling us to be on the bus by 7 p.m."
Griner said she is mimicking the actions of her older, wiser teammates.
"I think it's easier for me being a rookie with all these veterans who know the game inside and out," she said.
16dBonnie D. Ford