Brittney Griner has already left a mark on women’s basketball and her junior season is just beginning.
The 6-foot-8 Baylor phenom became the eighth player to be an unanimous choice on The Associated Press’ women’s basketball preseason All-America team, receiving all 40 votes from a national media panel Tuesday.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma spent two weeks with Griner on the U.S. national team’s European training tour in late September. She was the only college player in the group, and Auriemma sensed a masterpiece in the making.
“Who carved out the statue of ‘David’, Michaelangelo?” he said. “She’s got a chance to be that down the road. Right now there’s a lot of uncarved away stuff because she’s so young. There’s things she does that no one else can do. I’ve never seen anyone do things she can do. All the things she can’t do it’s because she hasn’t had the experience to do them yet. The more she’s put in that situation I think her growth is going to be exponential. She’s going to take off.”
Griner was joined on the preseason team by Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins (37 votes), Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike (37), Miami’s Shenise Johnson (25) and Tennessee’s Shekinna Stricklen (21).
“That’s a very savvy first team,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “What strikes me is that all those kids share the basketball well. They are very versatile players.”
The only other unanimous selections were Maya Moore (twice), Courtney Paris, Chamique Holdsclaw, Diana Taurasi, Alana Beard, Seimone Augustus and Candace Parker.
“Brittney has put on 20 more pounds and it will help her over the course of the season,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “The international experience will help her game. She’s more mature and more polished.”
Griner’s team is No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. After reaching the Final Four as a freshman, the Lady Bears lost in the regional final last season to eventual champion Texas A&M. Falling short in the NCAA tournament has stuck with her.
“Individual honors are nice, but what’s most important to me is to help my team achieve its goals,” Griner said.
Diggins had a breakout sophomore season, guiding Notre Dame to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 2001. The guard averaged 15 points and 4.8 assists, and picked up another stat along the way. She gained more than 100,000 followers on Twitter during the Final Four.
She joined fellow South Bend native Jacqueline Batteast as the only Irish players to earn preseason honors.
“It’s a huge honor and amazing that I’m only the second one from Notre Dame,” she said. “It’s kind of special for me since Jacqueline went to the same high school as me and we grew up in the same city.”
Diggins played with Ogwumike and Stricklen on the U.S. team that won gold at the World University Games.
|Skylar Diggins||Notre Dame||Guard|
“Nneka has the best hands in the country,” Diggins said. “She can jump with the best of them and can catch 10 of 10 balls thrown her way. her timing is great. Strick is one of the best pure shooters in the country. She also is a guard who gets in and rebounds, too. Not a lot of guards can rebound as well as she can.”
Ogwumike led Stanford to the Final Four for the fourth straight season before the Cardinal lost to Texas A&M in the semifinals. She averaged 17.5 points and shot 59 percent from the field. It’s the second straight season Ogwumike made the preseason team. She is only the third Stanford player to accomplish that, joining Candice Wiggins and Nicole Powell.
“It’s an honor to be considered and included alongside the nation’s best players,” Ogwumike said.
Johnson became the first player from Miami to make the preseason All-America team. She helped guide the Hurricanes to the Atlantic Coast Conference title last season, averaging 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.
“She’s done exactly what she set out to do,” Meier said. “She’s been the face of the program taking a leap of faith to come to Miami. It’s a moment for us having a player named to that team. We’re going to have fun with it.”
Miami was coming off a nine-win season when Johnson decided to come to the school. Now the team is predicted to win the ACC again.
“It is an honor to be recognized with all these great players, but what really matters is that we reach our teams goals and hopefully I can be a part of the postseason team,” Johnson said.
Stricklen has been a strong shooter, rebounder and defender with the Lady Vols. Without a true point guard on Tennessee during that span, Stricklen was to handle the ball from time to time, expanding her skills in the process.
After much prodding by coach Pat Summitt, Stricklen has also grown into the kind of leader the Lady Vols need if they want to keep from going a fourth season without a Final Four trip — a long drought by Tennessee standards.
“I think her leadership across the board has been very solid,” Summitt said. “Our team is looking to her, and I think she’s responded in a way that really helps the other players. She’s a calming effect, which I like. I think that’s why they really listen to what she has to say all the time and they constantly go to her.”
Griner was the only returning member of the postseason All-America team. Ogwumike earned second-team honors while Diggins, Johnson and Stricklen were on the third team.