- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Most folks are not going to see a whole lot that needs improvement with Baylor center Brittney Griner. But Bears coach Kim Mulkey's job to find such things and challenge Griner to go to work on them.
The 6-foot-8 senior has responded every time Mulkey has pointed out a new focus for her. That determination to improve -- even when she's already physically so gifted -- is a big reason Griner is espnW's preseason player of the year for a second consecutive season.
Griner won the Wade Trophy and all the other player of the year awards in 2012, but she's still totally open to constructive criticism.
"Brittney's maturity each year is very obvious to the casual observer," Mulkey said. "I think the specific parts of her game that I challenge her on, she has accomplished."
After her freshman season, it was for Griner to improve her free throw shooting. Then it was moving her feet to become a better defender.
"Then this year, looking at her stats to give Brittney something to really focus on, I just thought that offensive rebounding could be better," Mulkey continued. "She's not even our best offensive rebounder on the team -- that would go to Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope."
That said, Griner actually did get more offensive rebounds than any other player for the 40-0 national champions last season: 129. Williams, a fellow starter who played two fewer games, had 126. Pope, a reserve who played not even half as many minutes as Griner, had 86.
Griner is still doing very well overall on the glass: She averaged a team-best 9.5 rebounds last season, along with 23.2 points and 5.2 blocked shots. And part of what lowers her offensive rebounding numbers is that she doesn't need to put back very many of her own misses: Griner shot 60.9 percent from the field last season.
Still, Mulkey wants a little more, while at the same time being aware of why it's difficult.
"Of course, people are focused on her," Mulkey said. "And that's probably why she isn't a very good offensive rebounder -- because she has two and three people blocking her out. But a lot of it is a mindset, and I want her to be conscious of it. I just want her to understand that as good as she is, she can get better in several areas."
This a key reason why Griner wanted to play at Baylor: She knew Mulkey would be supportive of her, but also always challenge her. It has been a great union of coach and player: They have different personalities, but are both highly competitive in their own ways. Plus, Griner has never let Mulkey down in terms of work ethic.
In her final season at Baylor, Griner has younger players to teach, and Mulkey also likes what she has seen from her superstar in terms of mentorship.
"Brittney has become comfortable being a leader each year she's been in the program," Mulkey said. "That's what you want to see from your great players.
"It's always good to have your better players be your hardest workers. Because it's not what they say, but how they act and what they do in practice that freshmen look at and want to emulate."
20dBonnie D. Ford