- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- Baylor's Brittney Griner glanced up at the national championship banners inside the New Orleans Arena and winced a bit Saturday.
"I thought, 'We should have another one up there. We should be here fighting for one more,'" Griner said. "It definitely makes it hard, but you can't run from stuff. You've got to do what you've got to do."
What she and Baylor teammate Odyssey Sims had to do Saturday was put on happy faces -- or try to -- as they accepted their WBCA Coaches' All-America team plaques. They were joined on the squad by Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride, Connecticut's Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, Maryland's Alyssa Thomas and Duke's Chelsea Gray.
Baylor was the only team to have two of the All-Americans but not be in the Final Four. The Lady Bears fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16 last Sunday in Oklahoma City.
"It's definitely [been] emotional, kind of sat down after that game and took some time for myself," Griner said. "But you can't mope; there's always a plan. You never know what it is until it unfolds. I've been looking at it like that."
With the loss still stinging, Griner then found herself in the middle of another hot topic this past week when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he might consider drafting her. That started a debate that really isn't fair to Griner.
For her part, though, Griner has dealt with the topic with great humor and optimism.
"The WNBA is where I'm at," Griner said; she's expected to be the top pick, by Phoenix, in that league's draft on April 15. "That's where I'm going. But if I get a shot (to try out with an NBA team), why not? Why turn down something like that? At least you tried. You pushed the envelope.
"[The WNBA] is the No. 1 priority. I tweeted [Mark Cuban] back, 'When is tryouts?' I won't back down from a challenge, ever. Those guys are great athletes, they're strong, they're bigger than me. If I got an elbow in the chest from one of those big guys, at least I could say, 'I was there, I tried it.'"
Griner was smiling and self-effacing about the whole prospect of the NBA. There was a sense of light-heartedness about the topic that is surely welcome for her now after the disappointment of being upset in the regional semifinals.
Asked what it might be like to go against an NBA player like 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard, she said, "Wooo! I would finally see what everybody else [felt] like going against me. I'd get a taste of my own medicine, I guess. I'm not going to change my shot, though. If he blocked it, hey, whatever. It's a different level. I'd have to hit the weights."
Griner is taking the right attitude toward both Baylor's loss and the NBA chatter. She has a quick, easy-going wit. But when asked about what she's most proud of with her Baylor career, she turned serious.
"Just being a good role model; that's one thing I cherish the most," Griner said. "People have seen me grow. They saw me at my lowest point. They saw how I reacted, and how I've changed."
How will Baylor change without her and her fellow seniors Destiny Williams, Jordan Madden, Kimetria Hayden and Brooklyn Pope? The Lady Bears have been the No. 1 team in the country for much of the past two seasons. With the senior-to-be Sims as the star, what will we see from the Lady Bears next year?
Sims isn't quite ready to think about it; she is still visibly upset about the loss. But she knows pretty soon it will be time to already start looking ahead.
"I'm still not over it; being here brings back everything from that game [with Louisville]. I don't really want to be around basketball," Sims said. "But you keep moving. We'll be very young, so we'll see."
Sims was one of six juniors on the WBCA All-America team, along with Dolson, McBride, Thomas, Gray and Ogwumike. Then you've got juniors such as Louisville's Shoni Schimmel and Cal's Gennifer Brandon who have helped bring their teams to this Final Four and are big-time players as well.
"I think my class is one of the best, talent-wise," Sims said. "We are strong and have good players at every position. So it will be interesting to see what that means next year."
13dBonnie D. Ford